Human loss-of-function variants in the serotonin 2C receptor associated with obesity and maladaptive behavior

Nat Med. 2022 Dec;28(12):2537-2546. doi: 10.1038/s41591-022-02106-5. Epub 2022 Dec 19.


Serotonin reuptake inhibitors and receptor agonists are used to treat obesity, anxiety and depression. Here we studied the role of the serotonin 2C receptor (5-HT2CR) in weight regulation and behavior. Using exome sequencing of 2,548 people with severe obesity and 1,117 control individuals without obesity, we identified 13 rare variants in the gene encoding 5-HT2CR (HTR2C) in 19 unrelated people (3 males and 16 females). Eleven variants caused a loss of function in HEK293 cells. All people who carried variants had hyperphagia and some degree of maladaptive behavior. Knock-in male mice harboring a human loss-of-function HTR2C variant developed obesity and reduced social exploratory behavior; female mice heterozygous for the same variant showed similar deficits with reduced severity. Using the 5-HT2CR agonist lorcaserin, we found that depolarization of appetite-suppressing proopiomelanocortin neurons was impaired in knock-in mice. In conclusion, we demonstrate that 5-HT2CR is involved in the regulation of human appetite, weight and behavior. Our findings suggest that melanocortin receptor agonists might be effective in treating severe obesity in individuals carrying HTR2C variants. We suggest that HTR2C should be included in diagnostic gene panels for severe childhood-onset obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Female
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity, Morbid*
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2C* / genetics
  • Serotonin
  • Serotonin 5-HT2 Receptor Agonists / pharmacology


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2C
  • Serotonin
  • Serotonin 5-HT2 Receptor Agonists