Alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and related tripeptides: biochemistry, antiinflammatory and protective effects in vitro and in vivo, and future perspectives for the treatment of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases

Endocr Rev. 2008 Aug;29(5):581-602. doi: 10.1210/er.2007-0027. Epub 2008 Jul 8.


Alpha-MSH is a tridecapeptide derived from proopiomelanocortin. Many studies over the last few years have provided evidence that alpha-MSH has potent protective and antiinflammatory effects. These effects can be elicited via centrally expressed melanocortin receptors that orchestrate descending neurogenic antiinflammatory pathways. alpha-MSH can also exert antiinflammatory and protective effects on cells of the immune system and on peripheral nonimmune cell types expressing melanocortin receptors. At the molecular level, alpha-MSH affects various pathways implicated in regulation of inflammation and protection, i.e., nuclear factor-kappaB activation, expression of adhesion molecules and chemokine receptors, production of proinflammatory cytokines and mediators, IL-10 synthesis, T cell proliferation and activity, inflammatory cell migration, expression of antioxidative enzymes, and apoptosis. The antiinflammatory effects of alpha-MSH have been validated in animal models of experimentally induced fever; irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, vasculitis, and fibrosis; ocular, gastrointestinal, brain, and allergic airway inflammation; and arthritis, but also in models of organ injury. One obstacle limiting the use of alpha-MSH in inflammatory disorders is its pigmentary effect. Due to its preserved antiinflammatory effect but lack of pigmentary action, the C-terminal tripeptide of alpha-MSH, KPV, has been delineated as an alternative for antiinflammatory therapy. KdPT, a derivative of KPV corresponding to amino acids 193-195 of IL-1beta, is also emerging as a tripeptide with antiinflammatory effects. The physiochemical properties and expected low costs of production render both agents suitable for the future treatment of immune-mediated inflammatory skin and bowel disease, fibrosis, allergic and inflammatory lung disease, ocular inflammation, and arthritis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Inflammation / drug therapy*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / therapeutic use
  • alpha-MSH / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Peptides
  • alpha-MSH