High cortisol response to adrenocorticotrophic hormone identifies ewes with reduced melanocortin signalling and increased propensity to obesity

J Neuroendocrinol. 2015 Jan;27(1):44-56. doi: 10.1111/jne.12233.


We have identified female sheep that have either high (HR) or low (LR) cortisol responses to adrenocorticotrophin. On a high-energy diet, HR have greater propensity to weight gain and obesity, although the underlying mechanisms remain to be determined. Hypothalamic appetite-regulating peptides (ARP) exert reciprocal effects on food intake and energy expenditure. We aimed to quantify the expression and function of ARP in LR and HR ewes (n = 4 per group). Gene expression for neuropeptide Y (NPY), agouti-related peptide (AgRP) pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), orexin and the melanocortin receptors (MC3R and MC4R) was measured by in situ hybridisation. Expression of NPY, AgRP and POMC was similar in HR and LR, although expression of orexin, MCH, MC3R and MC4R was higher (P < 0.05) in LR. Intracerebroventricular infusions of a low dose (50 μg/h) of NPY, α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (αMSH), orexin and MCH were performed between 10.00 h and 16.00 h in meal-fed ewes (n = 6-7 per group). Skeletal muscle and retroperitoneal (RP) fat temperatures were recorded using dataloggers. Post-prandial thermogenesis in muscle was higher (P < 0.05) in LR. There was little effect of ARP infusion on muscle or fat temperature in either group. Infusion of these doses of NPY, MCH or orexin did not stimulate food intake in meal-fed ewes, although αMSH reduced (P < 0.01) food intake in LR only. Using 24-h ARP infusions with ad lib. feeding, NPY increased (P < 0.001) food intake in both groups but αMSH was only effective in LR (P < 0.05). In summary, we show that HR are resistant to the satiety effects of αMSH and this coincides with a reduced expression of both the MC3R and MC4R in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. We conclude that an increased propensity to obesity in HR female sheep is associated with reduced melanocortin signalling.

Keywords: Glucocorticoids; POMC; cortisol/corticosterone; food intake.; obesity; α-MSH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology*
  • Agouti-Related Protein / genetics
  • Animals
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Body Composition
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Hydrocortisone / biosynthesis*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Melanocortins / metabolism*
  • Neuropeptide Y / genetics
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Postprandial Period
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sheep
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Thermogenesis


  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Melanocortins
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone