The melanocortin system is composed of the melanocortin peptides, adrenocorticotropic hormone and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, the melanocortin receptors (MCRs), and the endogenous antagonists agouti- and agouti-related protein. Melanocortin peptides exert multiple effects upon the host, including anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects. Leukocytes are a source of melanocortins and a major target for these peptides. Because of reduced translocation of the nuclear factor NF-kappaB to the nucleus, MCR activation by their ligands causes a collective reduction of the most important molecules involved in the inflammatory process. This review examines how melanocortin peptides and their receptors participate in leukocyte biology.