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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Aug 10;101(32):11797-802. Epub 2004 Jul 27.

N-acetylation of hypothalamic alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and regulation by leptin.

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Division of Endocrinology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


The central melanocortin system is critical in the regulation of appetite and body weight, and leptin exerts its anorexigenic actions partly by increasing hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) expression. The POMC-derived peptide alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alphaMSH) is a melanocortin 4 receptor agonist, and its potency in reducing energy intake is strongly increased by N-acetylation. The reason for the higher biological activity of N-acetylated alphaMSH (Act-alphaMSH) compared with that of N-desacetylated alphaMSH (Des-alphaMSH) is unclear, and regulation of acetylation by leptin has not been investigated. We show here that total hypothalamic alphaMSH levels are decreased in leptin-deficient ob/ob mice and increased in leptin-treated ob/ob and C57BL/6J mice. The increase in total alphaMSH occurred as soon as 3 h after leptin injection and was entirely due to an increase in Act-alphaMSH. Consistent with this observation, leptin rapidly induced the enzymatic activity of a N-acetyltransferase in the hypothalamus of mice. In 293T cells expressing the melanocortin 4 receptor, Act-alphaMSH is far more potent than Des-alphaMSH in stimulating cAMP accumulation, an effect caused by a dramatically increased stability of Act-alphaMSH. Moreover, Des-alphaMSH is rapidly degraded in the hypothalamus after intracerebroventricular injection in rats and was less potent in inhibiting energy intake. The results suggest that leptin activates a N-acetyltransferase in POMC neurons, leading to increased hypothalamic levels of Act-alphaMSH. Due to its increased stability, this posttranslational modification of alphaMSH may play a critical role in leptin action via the central melanocortin pathway.

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