The melanocortins, a family of peptides produced from the post-translational processing of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), regulate ingestive behavior and energy expenditure. Loss of function mutations of genes encoding POMC, or of either of two melanocortin receptors expressed in the central nervous system (MC3R, MC4R), are associated with obesity. The analyses of MC4R knockout mice indicate that activation of this receptor is involved in the regulation of appetite, the adaptive metabolic response to excess caloric consumption, and negative energy balance associated with cachexia induced by cytokines. In contrast, MC3R knockout mice exhibit a normal, or even exaggerated, response to signals that induce a state of negative energy balance. However, loss of the MC3R also results in an increase in adiposity. This article discusses the regulation of energy balance by the melanocortins. Published and newly presented data from studies analyzing of energy balance of MC3R and MC4R knockout mice indicate that increased adiposity observed in both models involves an imbalance in fat intake and oxidation.