Melanocortin-1 receptor-mediated signalling pathways activated by NDP-MSH and HBD3 ligands


R. A. Sturm, e-mail:


Binding of melanocortin peptide agonists to the melanocortin-1 receptor of melanocytes results in eumelanin production, whereas binding of the agouti signalling protein inverse agonist results in pheomelanin synthesis. Recently, a novel melanocortin-1 receptor ligand was reported. A β-defensin gene mutation was found to be responsible for black coat colour in domestic dogs. Notably, the human equivalent, β-defensin 3, was found to bind with high affinity to the melanocortin-1 receptor; however, the action of β-defensin as an agonist or antagonist was unknown. Here, we use in vitro assays to show that β-defensin 3 is able to act as a weak partial agonist for cAMP signalling in human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells expressing human melanocortin-1 receptor. β-defensin 3 is also able to activate MAPK signalling in HEK cells stably expressing either wild type or variant melanocortin-1 receptors. We suggest that β-defensin 3 may be a novel melanocortin-1 receptor agonist involved in regulating melanocyte responses in humans.