Melanocortins are known to be involved in the regulation of feeding behavior. These hormones mediate their effects through G-protein-coupled receptors by stimulating adenylate cyclase. In this study we describe the functional response of melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) and melanocortin 3 receptor (MC3R) in HEK 293T cells, by using a luciferase reporter gene under the transcriptional control of a cAMP-responsive element (CRE) as a monitor of intracellular cAMP levels and cAMP-regulated gene expression. We were able to show that MC4R and MC3R expressed in the human cell line HEK 293T stimulate transcription induced by stimulation with different analogs of α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) at different levels. In our assay of CRE-mediated gene transcription activity, α-MSH-ND was the most efficient α-MSH analog for MC4R whereas NDP-MSH was the most efficient for MC3R. Changing the His6 residue of α-MSH-ND to Gln or Lys markedly decreased CRE-mediated luciferase activity for MC3R compared with MC4R. On analysis by modeling the receptor-ligand complex by NMR, [Gln6]α-MSH-ND and [Lys6]α-MSH-ND showed different conformational interactions between MC3R and MC4R. Furthermore, the maximum coupling efficiency of MC4R and MC3R to G proteins was different; MC4R showed only 30-50% of the maximum activity induced by MC3R. In total, our results suggest that a differential receptor-ligand interaction is involved and that the relative interactions of MC3R and MC4R with G protein are possibly quantitatively and qualitatively different.
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