The role of melanocortin peptides and receptors in regulation of energy balance

Curr Pharm Des. 2003;9(8):627-41. doi: 10.2174/1381612033391234.


Energy balance is a highly regulated, complex process which is modulated by central and peripheral systems. Dysregulation of energy homeostasis can result in metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type II diabetes. Obesity and type II diabetes are two of the most prevalent and challenging clinical conditions in society today. A growing body of evidence has implicated the melanocortin system as an important component in the maintenance of energy balance. alpha-MSH, a 13 amino acid peptide secreted as a product of the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene in the pituitary is a potent agonist of 4 of the 5 cloned melanocortin receptors (MCR). MC receptors are members of a G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) family, which signal through cAMP. Agouti and agouti-related protein (AGRP) are natural antagonists of melanocortin receptors and participate in regulation of skin/fur pigmentation, body weight, and adiposity. Stimulation of MC receptors has pleiotropic effects, which impact the nervous system as well as endocrine and immune functions. One of the most prominent effects of MC receptor stimulation is a dramatic suppression of food intake and body weight, which has led to the hypothesis that the MC receptor system plays a primary role in the maintenance of energy balance. This idea is supported by a large body of pharmacological, molecular and human genetic evidence. The following review summarizes the role of melanocortin receptors in the regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis and highlights the opportunities for MC receptors as drug development targets in treating eating disorders and diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Drug Design
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / physiology*
  • alpha-MSH / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Corticotropin
  • alpha-MSH