Immunoglobulin G modulation of the melanocortin 4 receptor signaling in obesity and eating disorders

Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 12;9(1):87. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0422-9.


Melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) plays a key role in regulation of appetite activated by its main ligand α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) in both central and peripheral targets. α-MSH also binds to circulating immunoglobulins (Igs) but the functional significance of such immune complexes (ICs) in MC4R signaling in normal and pathological conditions of altered appetite has remained unknown. To address this question, we analyzed plasma levels, affinity kinetics, and binding epitopes of α-MSH-reactive IgG extracted from plasma samples of female patients with hyperphagic obesity, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and healthy controls. Ability of α-MSH/IgG IC to bind and activate human MC4R were studied in vitro and to influence feeding behavior in vivo in rodents. We found that α-MSH-reactive IgG were low in obese but increased in anorectic and bulimic patients and displayed different epitope and kinetics of IC formation. Importantly, while α-MSH/IgG IC from all subjects were binding and activating MC4R, the receptor binding affinity was decreased in obesity. Additionally, α-MSH/IgG IC had lower MC4R-mediated cAMP activation threshold as compared with α-MSH alone in all but not obese subjects. Furthermore, the cellular internalization rate of α-MSH/IgG IC by MC4R-expressing cells was decreased in obese but increased in patients with anorexia nervosa. Moreover, IgG from obese patients prevented central anorexigenic effect of α-MSH. These findings reveal that MC4R is physiologically activated by IC formed by α-MSH/IgG and that different levels and molecular properties of α-MSH-reactive IgG underlie biological activity of such IC relevant to altered appetite in obesity and eating disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / blood
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / immunology*
  • Female
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / immunology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Young Adult
  • alpha-MSH / immunology*


  • Immunoglobulin G
  • MC4R protein, human
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • alpha-MSH
  • Cyclic AMP