Reduction in the activity of the α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) system causes obesity, and infusions of α-MSH can produce satiety, raising the possibility that α-MSH may mediate physiological satiety signals. Since α-MSH is coded for by the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene, we examined if POMC gene expression would be inhibited by fasting in normal mice or in models of obesity characterized by leptin insufficiency (ob/ob) or leptin insensitivity (db/db). In wild-type mice, hypothalamic POMC mRNA was decreased >60% after a 2-day fast and was positively correlated with leptin mRNA. Similarly, compared with controls, POMC mRNA was decreased by at least 60% in both db/db and ob/ob mice. POMC mRNA was negatively correlated with both neuropeptide Y (NPY) and melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) mRNA. Finally, treatment of both male and female ob/ob mice with leptin stimulated hypothalamic POMC mRNA by about threefold. These results suggest that impairment in production, processing, or responsiveness to α-MSH may be a common feature of obesity and that hypothalamic POMC neurons, stimulated by leptin, may constitute a link between leptin and the melanocortin system.

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