The melanocortin system and its role in obesity and cachexia

Curr Top Med Chem. 2003;3(8):855-83. doi: 10.2174/1568026033452212.


Melanocortin receptors (MC-R) activated by one of several peptides derived from the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) precursor have become leading contenders for a pivotal role in controlling food intake. Evidence has emerged over the last decade to implicate primarily the MC4-R and, to a lesser extent, MC3-R as the key sub-types involved and both are strategically located in those regions within the hypothalamus known to be associated with feeding. The receptors are within class A of the GPCR superfamily and the key electrostatic interaction with the positively charged peptide (Arg) has been mapped to one or more Asp or Glu residues located on helices II and III of the seven helical bundle characteristic of this class of receptor. Sites for secondary interactions from which sub-type selectivity may be derived have also been located in the extracellular and helical domains. Unique amongst GPCRs is the presence of endogenous antagonist peptides, Agouti and Agouti-related peptide (AGRP), which confer an extra level of control on the system. Recently, several reports of potent and selective non-peptide ligands have been published and these are seen as prototypic molecules from which drugs may emerge to treat obesity (agonists) and cachexia (antagonists). The role played by the melanocortin system is the subject of this review and advances in our understanding of the structure of the endogenous ligand(s), non-peptide, small molecule ligands and the receptors at which they interact will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cachexia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / chemistry
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / physiology*
  • Receptors, Melanocortin


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Corticotropin
  • Receptors, Melanocortin