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Pharmacol Rev. 2004 Mar;56(1):1-29.

Targeting melanocortin receptors as a novel strategy to control inflammation.

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Division of Internal Medicine, Ospedale Maggiore di Milano, Instituto di Ricovero e Cura a Caraterre Scientifico, Milano, Italy.


Adrenocorticotropic hormone and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-melanocyte-stimulating hormones, collectively called melanocortin peptides, exert multiple effects upon the host. These effects range from modulation of fever and inflammation to control of food intake, autonomic functions, and exocrine secretions. Recognition and cloning of five melanocortin receptors (MCRs) has greatly improved understanding of peptide-target cell interactions. Preclinical investigations indicate that activation of certain MCR subtypes, primarily MC1R and MC3R, could be a novel strategy to control inflammatory disorders. As a consequence of reduced translocation of the nuclear factor kappaB to the nucleus, MCR activation causes a collective reduction of the major molecules involved in the inflammatory process. Therefore, anti-inflammatory influences are broad and are not restricted to a specific mediator. Short half-life and lack of selectivity could be an obstacle to the use of the natural melanocortins. However, design and synthesis of new MCR ligands with selective chemical properties are already in progress. This review examines how marshaling MCR could control inflammation.

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