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.