Inactivation of the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4-R) by gene-targeting results in mice that develop maturity-onset obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and hyperglycemia. These phenotypes resemble common forms of human obesity, which are late-onset and frequently accompanied by NIDDM. It is not clear whether sequence variation of the MC4-R gene contributes to obesity in humans. Therefore, we examined the human MC4-R gene polymorphism in 190 individuals ascertained on obesity status. Three allelic variants were identified, including two novel ones, Thr112Met and Ile137Thr. To analyze possible functional alterations, the variants were cloned and expressed in vitro and compared with the wild-type receptor. One of the novel variants, Ile137Thr, identified in an extremely obese proband (BMI 57), was found to be severely impaired in ligand binding and signaling, raising the possibility that it may contribute to development of obesity. Furthermore, our results also suggest that sequence polymorphism in the MC4-R coding region is unlikely to be a common cause of obesity in the population studied, given the low frequency of functionally significant mutations.

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