Circulating melanin-concentrating hormone, agouti-related protein, and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone levels in relation to body composition: alterations in response to food deprivation and recombinant human leptin administration

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Feb;90(2):1047-54. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-1124. Epub 2004 Nov 16.


We evaluated whether circulating levels of melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), agouti-related protein (AGRP), and alpha-MSH could serve as useful markers of energy homeostasis in humans. We first assessed correlations of serum MCH, AGRP, and alpha-MSH with anthropometric, dietary, and hormonal variables in a cross-sectional study of 108 healthy humans. We then performed interventional studies to evaluate the effects of fasting and/or leptin administration. In eight healthy, normal weight men, we measured serum MCH, AGRP, and alpha-MSH levels at baseline, after 2 d of fasting alone (a low leptin state), and after 2 d of fasting with replacement dose recombinant methionyl human leptin (r-metHuLeptin) administration to normalize circulating leptin levels. In a separate group of five lean and five obese men, we measured MCH levels in response to increasing circulating leptin levels to the pharmacological range by administration of one r-metHuLeptin dose in the fed state. In the cross-sectional study, serum MCH levels were independently and positively associated with body mass index and fat mass and were higher in women than in men. Furthermore, in our interventional studies, fasting for 2 d significantly decreased leptin levels and increased serum MCH levels. Administration of replacement dose r-metHuLeptin during fasting prevented the fasting-induced increase in MCH levels, but administration of a pharmacological r-metHuLeptin dose in the fed state did not further alter MCH levels. Serum AGRP levels tended to change in directions similar to MCH, but this change was less pronounced and needs to be investigated in larger studies. In contrast, serum alpha-MSH levels did not correlate with body composition parameters, were not associated with caloric or macronutrient intake, and were not significantly affected by fasting or r-metHuLeptin administration. These findings suggest that serum MCH and possibly AGRP levels could serve as useful peripheral markers of changes in energy homeostasis and thus merit additional investigation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Size
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Hormones / blood*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Leptin / blood
  • Leptin / pharmacology*
  • Melanins / blood*
  • Pituitary Hormones / blood*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Reference Values
  • alpha-MSH / blood*


  • AGRP protein, human
  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Hypothalamic Hormones
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Leptin
  • Melanins
  • Pituitary Hormones
  • Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • alpha-MSH
  • melanin-concentrating hormone