Desacetyl-α-melanocyte stimulating hormone and α-melanocyte stimulating hormone are required to regulate energy balance

Mol Metab. 2018 Mar:9:207-216. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2017.11.008. Epub 2017 Nov 24.


Objective: Regulation of energy balance depends on pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides and melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R). Alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH) is the predicted natural POMC-derived peptide that regulates energy balance. Desacetyl-α-MSH, the precursor for α-MSH, is present in brain and blood. Desacetyl-α-MSH is considered to be unimportant for regulating energy balance despite being more potent (compared with α-MSH) at activating the appetite-regulating MC4R in vitro. Thus, the physiological role for desacetyl-α-MSH is still unclear.

Methods: We created a novel mouse model to determine whether desacetyl-α-MSH plays a role in regulating energy balance. We engineered a knock in targeted QKQR mutation in the POMC protein cleavage site that blocks the production of both desacetyl-α-MSH and α-MSH from adrenocorticotropin (ACTH1-39).

Results: The mutant ACTH1-39 (ACTHQKQR) functions similar to native ACTH1-39 (ACTHKKRR) at the melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2R) in vivo and MC4R in vitro. Male and female homozygous mutant ACTH1-39 (Pomctm1/tm1) mice develop the characteristic melanocortin obesity phenotype. Replacement of either desacetyl-α-MSH or α-MSH over 14 days into Pomctm1/tm1 mouse brain significantly reverses excess body weight and fat mass gained compared to wild type (WT) (Pomcwt/wt) mice. Here, we identify both desacetyl-α-MSH and α-MSH peptides as regulators of energy balance and highlight a previously unappreciated physiological role for desacetyl-α-MSH.

Conclusions: Based on these data we propose that there is potential to exploit the naturally occurring POMC-derived peptides to treat obesity but this relies on first understanding the specific function(s) for desacetyl-α-MSH and α-MSH.

Keywords: Desacetyl-α-MSH; Obese mouse model; Obesity; POMC; α-MSH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteolysis
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / metabolism
  • Weight Gain
  • alpha-MSH / metabolism*


  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 2
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • alpha-MSH