Int J Biol Sci 2015; 11(4):423-433. doi:10.7150/ijbs.11032 This issue

Research Paper

Biased Signaling in Naturally Occurring Mutations in Human Melanocortin-3 Receptor Gene

Fan Yang1,2*, Hui Huang1*, Ya-Xiong Tao1✉

1. Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA.
2. Current address: College of Life Sciences, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 010018, China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) License. See for full terms and conditions.
Yang F, Huang H, Tao YX. Biased Signaling in Naturally Occurring Mutations in Human Melanocortin-3 Receptor Gene. Int J Biol Sci 2015; 11(4):423-433. doi:10.7150/ijbs.11032. Available from

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The melanocortin-3 receptor (MC3R) is primarily expressed in the hypothalamus and plays an important role in the regulation of energy homeostasis. Recently, some studies demonstrated that MC3R also signals through mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), especially extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2). ERK1/2 signaling is known to alter gene expression, potentially contributing to the prolonged action of melanocortins on energy homeostasis regulation. In the present study, we performed detailed functional studies on 8 novel naturally occurring MC3R mutations recently reported, and the effects of endogenous MC3R agonist, α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), on ERK1/2 signaling on all 22 naturally occurring MC3R mutations reported to date. We found that mutants D158Y and L299V were potential pathogenic causes to obesity. Four residues, F82, D158, L249 and L299, played critical roles in different aspects of MC3R function. α-MSH exhibited balanced activity in Gs-cAMP and ERK1/2 signaling pathways in 15 of the 22 mutant MC3Rs. The other 7 mutant MC3Rs were biased to either one of the signaling pathways. In summary, we provided novel data about the structure-function relationship of MC3R, identifying residues important for receptor function. We also demonstrated that some mutations exhibited biased signaling, preferentially activating one intracellular signaling pathway, adding a new layer of complexity to MC3R pharmacology.

Keywords: Melanocortin-3 receptor, naturally occurring mutations, cAMP signaling, ERK1/2 signaling, biased signaling.