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LE Pritchard, AV Turnbull, and A White

Bioactive peptides derived from the prohormone, pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), are generated in neurons of the hypothalamus and act as endogenous ligands for the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R), a key molecule underlying appetite control and energy homeostasis. It is therefore important to understand many aspects of POMC gene regulation in the brain, as pharmacological manipulation of POMC expression/processing could be a potential strategy to combat obesity. Most studies that have analysed POMC gene expression in the hypothalamus have focused on gene transcription experiments. Ultimately, however, factors that regulate post-translational processing and secretion of peptides will have most bearing on melanocortin signalling. This article focuses on (a) current evidence that POMC is involved in obesity, (b) how POMC transcription is regulated in the hypothalamus, (c) the mechanism by which proteolytic processing of POMC is controlled in the hypothalamus and what peptides are produced and (d) which POMC-derived peptides are the most potent ligands at the melanocortin receptor in vitro and in vivo. It seems that post-translational cleavage of POMC in the hypothalamus may be regulated with respect to energy requirement. We predict that further research into hypothalamic POMC processing, and the proteolytic enzymes involved, may yield important new clues on how flux through the MC4R pathway is regulated.

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LE Pritchard, D Armstrong, N Davies, RL Oliver, CA Schmitz, JC Brennand, GF Wilkinson, and A White

Interactions between pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides, agouti-related protein (AGRP) and the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4-R) are central to energy homeostasis. In this study we have undertaken comprehensive pharmacological analysis of these interactions using a CHOK1 cell line stably transfected with human MC4-R. Our main objectives were (1) to compare the relative affinities and potencies of POMC-derived peptides endogenously secreted within the hypothalamus, (2) to investigate the potency of AGRP(83-132) antagonism with respect to each POMC-derived peptide and (3) to determine whether AGRP(83-132) and POMC-derived peptides act allosterically or orthosterically. We have found that beta melanocyte-stimulating hormone (betaMSH), desacetyl alpha MSH (da-alphaMSH) and adrenocorticotrophic hormone all have very similar affinities and potencies at the MC4-R compared with the presumed natural ligand, alphaMSH. Moreover, even MSH precursors, such as beta lipotrophic hormone, showed significant binding and functional activity. Therefore, many POMC-derived peptides could have important roles in appetite regulation and it seems unlikely that alphaMSH is the sole physiological ligand. We have shown that AGRP(83-132) acts as a competitive antagonist. There was no significant difference in the potency of inhibition by AGRP(83-132) or agouti(87-132) at the MC4-R, regardless of which POMC peptide was used as an agonist. Furthermore, we have found that AGRP(83-132) has no effect on the dissociation kinetics of radiolabelled Nle4,D-Phe7 MSH from the MC4-R, indicating an absence of allosteric effects. This provides strong pharmacological evidence that AGRP(83-132) acts orthosterically at the MC4-R to inhibit Gs-coupled accumulation of intracellular cAMP.