The central melanocortin system and the integration of short- and long-term regulators of energy homeostasis

Recent Prog Horm Res. 2004;59:395-408. doi: 10.1210/rp.59.1.395.


The importance of the central melanocortin system in the regulation of energy balance is highlighted by studies in transgenic animals and humans with defects in this system. Mice that are engineered to be deficient for the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) or pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and those that overexpress agouti or agouti-related protein (AgRP) all have a characteristic obese phenotype typified by hyperphagia, increased linear growth, and metabolic defects. Similar attributes are seen in humans with haploinsufficiency of the MC4R. The central melanocortin system modulates energy homeostasis through the actions of the agonist, alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH), a POMC cleavage product, and the endogenous antagonist AgRP on the MC3R and MC4R. POMC is expressed at only two locations in the brain: the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARC) and the nucleus of the tractus solitarius (NTS) of the brainstem. This chapter will discuss these two populations of POMC neurons and their contribution to energy homeostasis. We will examine the involvement of the central melanocortin system in the incorporation of information from the adipostatic hormone leptin and acute hunger and satiety factors such as peptide YY (PYY(3-36)) and ghrelin via a neuronal network involving POMC/cocaine and amphetamine-related transcript (CART) and neuropeptide Y (NPY)/AgRP neurons. We will discuss evidence for the existence of a similar network of neurons in the NTS and propose a model by which this information from the ARC and NTS centers may be integrated directly or via adipostatic centers such as the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVH).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Animals
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / physiology
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / physiology
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / physiology
  • Solitary Nucleus / physiology
  • alpha-MSH / physiology*


  • AGRP protein, human
  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • alpha-MSH
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin