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The two neural melanocortin receptors (MCRs), melanocortin-3 and -4 receptors (MC3R and MC4R), are G protein-coupled receptors expressed primarily in the brain that regulate different aspects of energy homeostasis. The MCRs are unique in having endogenous antagonists, agouti and agouti-related protein (AgRP). These antagonists were later shown to be inverse agonists. The MC3R has little or no constitutive activity, whereas the MC4R has significant constitutive activity that can easily be detected. We describe herein methods for detecting constitutive activities in these receptors and small molecule ligands as inverse agonists. AgRP is an inverse agonist for both MC3R and MC4R. We also provide models for the constitutively active MC4R mutants.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The melanocortin system refers to a set of hormonal, neuropeptidergic, and paracrine signaling pathways that are defined by components that include the five G protein-coupled melanocortin receptors; peptide agonists derived from the proopiomelanocortin preprohormone precursor; and the endogenous antagonists, agouti and agouti-related protein. This signaling system regulates a remarkably diverse array of physiological functions including pigmentation, adrenocortical steroidogenesis, energy homeostasis, natriuresis, erectile responses, energy homeostasis, and exocrine gland secretion. There are many complex and unique aspects of melanocortin signaling, such as the existence of endogenous antagonists, the agouti proteins, that act at three of the five melanocortin receptors. However, there is an aspect of melanocortin signaling that has facilitated highly reductionist approaches aimed at understanding the physiological functions of each receptor and peptide: in contrast to many peptides, the melanocortin agonists and antagonists are expressed in a limited number of very discrete locations. Similarly, the melanocortin receptors are also expressed in a limited number of discrete locations where they tend to be involved in rather circumscribed physiological functions. This review examines my laboratory's participation in the cloning of the melanocortin receptors and characterization of their physiological roles.
Leptin is an adipocyte-derived hormone that acts as a major regulator of food intake and energy homeostasis. It circulates both as a free and as a protein-bound entity. Leptin is released into the blood in proportion to the amount of body fat and exerts sustained inhibitory effects on food intake while increasing energy expenditure. The leptin receptor belongs to the class I cytokine receptor superfamily and possesses strong homology to the signal-transducing subunits of the IL-6 receptor. The hypothalamic melanocortin system, and specifically the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC-4R), is critical in mediating leptin's effect on appetite and metabolism. Serum leptin concentrations are elevated in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and correlate with C-reactive protein levels suggesting that inflammation is an important factor that contributes to hyperleptinemia in CKD. Hyperleptinemia may be important in the pathogenesis of inflammation-associated cachexia in CKD. We showed that experimental uremic cachexia was attenuated in db/db mice, a model of leptin receptor deficiency. Nephrectomy in these animals did not result in any change in weight gain, body composition, resting metabolic rate, and efficiency of food consumption. Furthermore, experimental uremic cachexia could be ameliorated by blocking leptin signaling through the hypothalamic MC-4R. MC-4R knockout mice or mice administered the MC-4R and MC-3R antagonist, agouti-related peptide, resisted uremia-induced loss of lean body mass and maintained normal basal metabolic rates. Thus, melanocortin receptor antagonism may provide a novel therapeutic strategy for inflammation-associated cachexia in CKD.
The rodent preputial gland secretes aggression-promoting pheromones and expresses melanocortin-5 receptor (MC5R), but the functional relationship is poorly understood. We investigated whether MC5R deficiency in male mice alters stimulatory melanocortin influences on preputial growth and pheromone-induced aggression. In wild-type (MC5R(+/+)) pairs, repeated NDP-MSH injection decreased attack latency and increased aggression in initial attackers. Similar NDP-MSH treatment in MC5R-deficient (MC5R(-/-)) pairs failed to alter attack latency or aggression frequency, but aggression increased in vehicle-injected opponents. NDP-MSH treatment promoted preputial hypertrophy, and in MC5R(+/+) mice paired against non-aggressive stimulus opponents it decreased attack latency and increased aggression. MC5R(-/-) mice were insensitive to behavioral and physiological effects of NDP-MSH, and preputialectomized mice were insensitive to behavioral effects of NDP-MSH. The results suggest that MC5R inactivation reduced a pheromonal signal for aggression that acts on donors, rather than their opponents.
The central melanocortin system is perhaps the best-characterized neuronal pathway involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis. This collection of circuits is unique in having the capability of sensing signals from a staggering array of hormones, nutrients and afferent neural inputs. It is likely to be involved in integrating long-term adipostatic signals from leptin and insulin, primarily received by the hypothalamus, with acute signals regulating hunger and satiety, primarily received by the brainstem. The system is also unique from a regulatory point of view in that it is composed of fibers expressing both agonists and antagonists of melanocortin receptors. Given that the central melanocortin system is an active target for development of drugs for the treatment of obesity, diabetes and cachexia, it is important to understand the system in its full complexity, including the likelihood that the system also regulates the cardiovascular and reproductive systems.