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Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2006 May 30;52(2):75-8.

Melanocortins in human melanocytes.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, BD7 1DP, UK.


Human epidermal keratinocytes and melanocytes express proopiomelanocortins (POMC) and all of the enzymes for POMC processing, i.e. prohormone convertases PC-1 and PC-2 including the regulatory protein 7B2. In melanocytes POMC processing also occurs in the melanosome, a lysosome-derived organelle that specializes in the biosynthesis of melanin. Consequently, the autocrine synthesis and release of the key hormones ACTH, alpha and beta-MSH and beta-endorphin takes also place in melanocytes. All four hormones have been reported to promote the biosynthesis of eumelanin in melanocytes. ACTH and alpha-MSH bind to the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC-1-R) on the plasma membrane and activate the signalling pathway predominantly coupled to production of cAMP, and in some cell lines raising intracellular calcium levels. In the melanocyte this signalling is redundant due to the high expression of alpha1 and beta2-adrenoceptors. Downstream events increase melanocyte this signalling is redundant due to the high expression of a tyrosinase expression / activity to stimulate eumelanogenesis. Studies with rMC-1-R transfected COS cells showed that both ACTH and alpha-MSH bind to the receptor with similar or different affinity depending on the species (human vs mice). We have modelled the MC-1-R based on the X-ray crystal structure of a homologous 7 receptor rhodopsin. Docking studies with ACTH1-39, ACTH1-17 and ACTH11-17 and alpha-MSH1-13 revealed that all 3 ACTH peptides yield thermodynamically stable (key ACTH1-13 in-lock) complexes. Interestingly, alpha-MSH is predicted to only have a kinetic effect on the MC-1-R and beta-MSH has even a weaker affinity for the MC-1-R than alpha-MSH. Based on these results the relative importance of ACTH versus alpha-MSH in the human epidermis has been re-evaluated.

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