There is a need for novel approaches to control pathologies with overexuberant inflammatory reactions. Targeting melanocortin (MC) receptors represents a promising therapy for obesity and chronic inflammation, but lack of selectivity and safety concerns limit development. A new way to increase selectivity of biological effects entails the identification of biased agonists. In this study, we characterize the small molecule AP1189 as a biased agonist at receptors MC1 and MC3. Although not provoking canonical cAMP generation, AP1189 addition to MC1 or MC3, but not empty vector, transfected HEK293 cells caused ERK1/2 phosphorylation, a signaling responsible for the proefferocytic effect evoked in mouse primary macrophages. Added to macrophage cultures, AP1189 reduced cytokine release, an effect reliant on both MC1 and MC3 as evident from the use of Mc1r(-/-) and Mc3r(-/-) macrophages. No melanogenesis was induced by AP1189 in B16-F10 melanocytes. In vivo, oral AP1189 elicited anti-inflammatory actions in peritonitis and, upon administration at the peak of inflammation, accelerated the resolution phase by ∼3-fold. Finally, given the clinical efficacy of adrenocorticotropin in joint diseases, AP1189 was tested in experimental inflammatory arthritis, where this biased agonist afforded significant reduction of macroscopic and histological parameters of joint disruption. These proof-of-concept analyses with AP1189, an active oral anti-inflammatory and resolution-promoting compound, indicate that biased agonism at MC receptors is an innovative, viable approach to yield novel anti-inflammatory molecules endowed with a more favorable safety profile.
Copyright © 2015 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.