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Volume 10, Pages 1840-1853
Review Article

The Melanocortin System in Control of Inflammation

1Center for Preclinical Investigation, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milano, Italy
2Department of Internal Medicine, Università di Milano, Italy
3Center for Surgical Research, Fondazione IRCCS Ca' Granda - Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milano, Italy

Received 7 July 2010; Revised 27 July 2010; Accepted 8 August 2010

Academic Editor: Mauro Perretti

Copyright © 2010 Anna Catania et al.


Melanocortin peptides, the collective term for α-, β-, and γ-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-, β-, γ-MSH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), are elements of an ancient modulatory system. Natural melanocortins derive from the common precursor pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC). Five receptor subtypes for melanocortins (MC1-MC5) are widely distributed in brain regions and in peripheral cells. Melanocortin receptor activation by natural or synthetic ligands exerts marked anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects. The anticytokine action and the inhibitory influences on inflammatory cell migration make melanocortins potential new drugs for treatment of inflammatory disorders. Effectiveness in treatment of acute, chronic, and systemic inflammatory disorders is well documented in preclinical studies. Further, melanocortins are promising compounds in neuroprotection. This review examines the main signaling circuits in anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory actions of melanocortins, and the potential therapeutic use of these molecules.