Functional characterization of melanocortin-4 receptor mutations associated with childhood obesity

Endocrinology. 2003 Oct;144(10):4544-51. doi: 10.1210/en.2003-0524. Epub 2003 Jun 19.


The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) is a member of the rhodopsin-like G protein-coupled receptor family. The binding of alpha-MSH to the MC4R leads to increased cAMP production. Recent pharmacological and genetic studies have provided compelling evidence that MC4R is an important regulator of food intake and energy homeostasis. Allelic variants of MC4R were reported in some children with early-onset severe obesity. However, few studies have been performed to confirm that these allelic variants result in an impairment of the receptor's function. In this study, we expressed wild-type and variant MC4Rs in HEK293 cells and systematically studied ligand binding, agonist-stimulated cAMP, and cell surface expression. Six of the 11 mutants examined had either decreased (S58C, N62S, Y157S, C271Y) or no (P78L, G98R) ligand binding, with proportional impairments in [Nle4, d-Phe7]-alpha-MSH-stimulated cAMP production. Confocal microscopy confirmed that the observed decreases in hormone binding by these mutants are associated with decreased cell surface expression due to intracellular retention of the mutants. The other five allelic variants (D37V, P48S, V50M, I170V, N274S) were found to be expressed at the cell surface and to bind agonist and respond with increased cAMP production normally. The data on these latter five variants raise the question as to whether they are indeed causative of the obesity or not and, if so, by what mechanism. Our data, therefore, stress the importance of characterizing the properties of MC4R variants associated with early-onset severe obesity. We further propose a classification scheme for mutant MC4Rs based upon their properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cyclic AMP / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Mutation*
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / agonists
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / genetics*
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • alpha-MSH / analogs & derivatives*
  • alpha-MSH / pharmacology


  • Ligands
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • Receptors, Corticotropin
  • alpha-MSH
  • MSH, 4-Nle-7-Phe-alpha-
  • Cyclic AMP