Alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone [alpha-MSH(1-13)] occurs within the CNS, skin, circulation and in other body sites. This tridecapeptide and its COOH-terminal tripeptide, alpha-MSH (11-13), have antipyretic and anti-inflammatory actions. Studies of the anti-inflammatory effects of these molecules have been confined mainly to tests of inhibition of histamine and endogenous pyrogen-induced increases in capillary permeability in rabbits and acute inflammation of ear tissue in mice. The aim in the present experiments was to learn if alpha-MSH peptides also antagonize inflammation in two additional models: acute edema induced in the mouse paw and contact sensitivity. Significant anti-inflammatory effects were observed with MSH peptides in both models. These findings converge with previous results to indicate that alpha-MSH peptides modulate inflammation. Because circulating alpha-MSH increases after treatment of animals with endogenous pyrogen or endotoxin, administration of the peptides may simply mimic a naturally occurring modulation of host defense reactions.