It is well established that melanocortins are peptides that have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Recent research has focused on understanding which of the known melanocortin receptors mediates the anti-inflammatory actions of the melanocortins. The aim of this study was to assess the anti-inflammatory activity of a synthetic MC-1R agonist. BMS-470539 is a potent, selective, full agonist of human and murine MC-1R with EC(50) values in a cAMP accumulation assay of 16.8 and 11.6 nM, respectively. BMS-470539 dose-dependently inhibited TNF-alpha-induced activation of a NF-kappaB transcriptional reporter in human melanoma cells, which endogenously express MC-1R. In vivo studies with BMS-470539 demonstrated that subcutaneous administration of BMS-470539 resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of LPS-induced TNF-alpha production in BALB/c mice. In this model, the compound had an ED(50) of approximately 10 micromol/kg and a pharmacodynamic half-life of approximately 8 h. Pharmacokinetic analysis of the compound indicated that the compound had a t(1/2) of 1.7 h. In a model of lung inflammation, administration of 15 micromol/kg BMS-470539 resulted in a 45% reduction in LPS-induced leukocyte infiltration (an infiltrate comprised primarily of neutrophils). The compound was also effective in a model of delayed-type hypersensitivity, reducing paw swelling by 59%, comparable with that seen with 5 mg/kg dexamethasone. These studies demonstrate that a selective small molecule agonist of the melanocortin-1 receptor is a potent anti-inflammatory agent in vivo and provides compelling evidence for the involvement of this receptor in the modulation of inflammation.