Insights into the Allosteric Mechanism of Setmelanotide (RM-493) as a Potent and First-in-Class Melanocortin-4 Receptor (MC4R) Agonist To Treat Rare Genetic Disorders of Obesity through an in Silico Approach

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2019 Mar 20;10(3):1055-1065. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00346. Epub 2018 Aug 13.


Human melanocortin-4 receptor (hMC4R) mutations have been implicated as the cause for about 6-8% of all severe obesity cases. Drug-like molecules that are able to rescue the functional activity of mutated receptors are highly desirable to combat genetic obesity among this population of patients. One such molecule is the selective MC4R agonist RM-493 (setmelanotide). While this molecule has been shown to activate mutated receptors with 20-fold higher potency over the endogenous agonist, little is known about its binding mode and how it effectively interacts with hMC4R despite the presence of mutations. In this study, a MC4R homology model was constructed based on the X-ray crystal structure of the adenosine A2A receptor in the active state. Four MC4R mutations commonly found in genetically obese patients and known to effect ligand binding in vitro were introduced into the constructed model. RM-493 was then docked into the wild-type and mutated models in order to better elucidate the possible binding modes for this promising drug candidate and assess how it may be interacting with MC4R to effectively activate receptor polymorphisms. The results reflected the orthosteric interactions of both the endogenous and synthetic ligands with the MC4R, which is supported by the site-directed mutagenesis studies. Meanwhile it helped explain the decremental affinity and potency of these ligands with the receptor polymorphisms. More significantly, our findings indicated that the structural characteristics of RM-493 may allow for enhanced receptor-ligand interactions, particularly through those with the putative allosteric binding sites, which facilitated the ligand to stabilize the active state of native and mutant MC4Rs to maintain reasonably high affinity and potency.

Keywords: MC4R agonist; allosteric binding modes; docking; homology model; mutations; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation / drug effects
  • Allosteric Regulation / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Docking Simulation / methods
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Point Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / agonists
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / chemistry*
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / genetics*
  • alpha-MSH / analogs & derivatives*
  • alpha-MSH / chemistry
  • alpha-MSH / pharmacology
  • alpha-MSH / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • MC4R protein, human
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • setmelanotide
  • alpha-MSH