The MC4 receptor and control of appetite

Br J Pharmacol. 2006 Dec;149(7):815-27. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0706929. Epub 2006 Oct 16.


Mutations in the human melanocortin (MC)4 receptor have been associated with obesity, which underscores the relevance of this receptor as a drug target to treat obesity. Infusion of MC4R agonists decreases food intake, whereas inhibition of MC receptor activity by infusion of an MC receptor antagonist or with the inverse agonist AgRP results in increased food intake. This review addresses the role of the MC system in different aspects of feeding behaviour. MC4R activity affects meal size and meal choice, but not meal frequency, and the type of diet affects the efficacy of MC4R agonists to reduce food intake. The central sites involved in the different aspects of feeding behaviour that are affected by MC4R signalling are being unravelled. The paraventricular nucleus plays an important role in food intake per se, whereas MC signalling in the lateral hypothalamus is associated with the response to a high fat diet. MC4R signalling in the brainstem has been shown to affect meal size. Further genetic, behavioural and brain-region specific studies need to clarify how the MC4R agonists affect feeding behaviour in order to determine which obese individuals would benefit most from treatment with these drugs. Application of MCR agonists in humans has already revealed side effects, such as penile erections, which may complicate introduction of these drugs in the treatment of obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / pharmacology
  • Appetite Depressants / pharmacology
  • Appetite Regulation* / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Melanocortins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / metabolism
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 3 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 3 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / drug effects
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / genetics*
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Appetite Depressants
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Ligands
  • Melanocortins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 3
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin