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Genes Dev. 1998 Feb 1;12(3):316-30.

Interaction of Agouti protein with the melanocortin 1 receptor in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Pediatrics, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5428, USA.


Agouti protein and Agouti-related protein (Agrp) are paracrine-signaling molecules that normally regulate pigmentation and body weight, respectively. These proteins antagonize the effects of alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) and other melanocortins, and several alternatives have been proposed to explain their biochemical mechanisms of action. We have used a sensitive bioassay based on Xenopus melanophores to characterize pharmacologic properties of recombinant Agouti protein, and have directly measured its cell-surface binding to mammalian cells by use of an epitope-tagged form (HA-Agouti) that retains biologic activity. In melanophores, Agouti protein has no effect in the absence of alpha-MSH, but its action cannot be explained solely by inhibition of alpha-MSH binding. In 293T cells, expression of the Mc1r confers a specific, high-affinity binding site for HA-Agouti. Binding is inhibited by alpha-MSH, or by Agrp, which indicates that alpha-MSH and Agouti protein bind in a mutually exclusive way to the Mc1r, and that the similarity between Agouti protein and Agrp includes their binding sites. The effects of Agouti and the Mc1r in vivo have been examined in a sensitized background provided by the chinchilla (Tyrc-ch) mutation, which uncovers a phenotypic difference between overexpression of Agouti in lethal yellow (Ay/a) mice and loss of Mc1r function in recessive yellow (Mc1re/Mc1re) mice. Double and triple mutant studies indicate that a functional Mc1r is required for the pigmentary effects of Agouti, and suggest that Agouti protein can act as an agonist of the Mc1r in a way that differs from alpha-MSH stimulation. These results resolve questions regarding the biochemical mechanism of Agouti protein action, and provide evidence of a novel signaling mechanism whereby alpha-MSH and Agouti protein or Agrp function as independent ligands that inhibit each other's binding and transduce opposite signals through a single receptor.

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