Role of proopiomelanocortin-derived peptides and their receptors in the osteoarticular system: from basic to translational research

Endocr Rev. 2012 Aug;33(4):623-51. doi: 10.1210/er.2011-1016. Epub 2012 Jun 26.


Proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides such as melanocortins and β-endorphin (β-ED) exert their pleiotropic effects via binding to melanocortin receptors (MCR) and opioid receptors (OR). There is now compelling evidence for the existence of a functional POMC system within the osteoarticular system. Accordingly, distinct cell types of the synovial tissue and bone have been identified to generate POMC-derived peptides like β-ED, ACTH, or α-MSH. MCR subtypes, especially MC1R, MC2R (the ACTH receptor), MC3R, and MC4R, but also the μ-OR and δ-OR, have been detected in various cells of the synovium, cartilage, and bone. The respective ligands of these POMC-derived peptide receptors mediate an increasing number of newly recognized biological effects in the osteoarticular system. These include bone mineralization and longitudinal growth, cell proliferation and differentiation, extracellular matrix synthesis, osteoprotection, and immunomodulation. Importantly, bone formation is also regulated by the central melanocortin system via a complex hormonal interplay with other organs and tissues involved in energy metabolism. Among the POMC-derived peptides examined in cell culture systems from osteoarticular tissue and in animal models of experimentally induced arthritis, α-MSH, ACTH, and MC3R-specific agonists appear to have the most promising antiinflammatory actions. The effects of these melanocortin peptides may be exploited in future for the treatment of patients with inflammatory and degenerative joint diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / etiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / drug effects
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Cartilage / drug effects
  • Cartilage / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Joints / drug effects
  • Joints / metabolism*
  • Melanocortins / pharmacology
  • Melanocortins / therapeutic use
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy
  • Osteoarthritis / etiology
  • Osteoarthritis / metabolism*
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • beta-Endorphin / pharmacology
  • beta-Endorphin / therapeutic use


  • Melanocortins
  • beta-Endorphin
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin