Photoperiod-Dependent Regulation of Carboxypeptidase E Affects the Selective Processing of Neuropeptides in the Seasonal Siberian Hamster (Phodopus sungorus)


Correspondence to: Michael Helwig, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, 20 Penn Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA (e-mail:


The production of bioactive peptides from biologically inactive precursors involves extensive post-translational processing, including enzymatic cleavage by proteolytic peptidases. Endoproteolytic prohormone-convertases initially cleave the precursors of many neuropeptides at specific amino acid sequences to generate intermediates with basic amino acid extensions on their C-termini. Subsequently, the related exopeptidases, carboxypeptidases D and E (CPD and CPE), are responsible for removing these amino acids before the peptides achieve biological activity. We investigated the effect of photoperiod on the processing of the neuropeptide precursor pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and its derived neuropeptides, α- melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) and β-endorphin (END), within the hypothalamus of the seasonal Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). We thus compared hypothalamic distribution of CPD, CPE, α-MSH and β-END using immunohistochemistry and measured the enzyme activity of CPE and concentrations of C-terminally cleaved α-MSH in short-day (SD; 8 : 16 h light/dark) and long-day (LD; 16 : 8 h light/dark) acclimatised hamsters. Increased immunoreactivity (-IR) of CPE, as well as higher CPE activity, was observed in SD. This increase was accompanied by more β-END-IR cells and substantially higher levels of C- terminally cleaved α-MSH, as determined by radioimmunoassay. Our results suggest that exoproteolytic cleavage of POMC-derived neuropeptides is tightly regulated by photoperiod in the Siberian hamster. Higher levels of biological active α-MSH- and β-END in SD are consistent with the hypothesis that post-translational processing is a key event in the regulation of seasonal energy balance.