Cyclic analogs of α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (αMSH) with high agonist potency and selectivity at human melanocortin receptor 1b

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α-Melanotropin (αMSH), Ac-Ser1-Tyr2-Ser3-Met4-Glu5-His6-Phe7-Arg8-Trp9-Gly10-Lys11-Pro12-Val13-NH2,1 has been long recognized as an important physiological regulator of skin and hair pigmentation in mammals. Binding of this peptide to the melanocortin receptor 1 (MC1R) leads to activation of tyrosinase, the key enzyme of the melanin biosynthesis pathway. In this study, interactions of the human MC1bR (an isoform of the receptor 1a) with the synthetic cyclic analogs of αMSH were studied. These ligands were analogs of MTII, Ac-Nle4-cyclo-(Asp5-His6-D-Phe7-Arg8-Trp9-Lys10)-NH2, a potent pan-agonist at the human melanocortin receptors (hMC1,3–5R). In the structure of MTII, the His6-D-Phe7-Arg8-Trp9 segment has been recognized as “essential” for molecular recognition at the human melanocortin receptors (hMC1,3–5R). Herein, the role of the Trp9 in the ligand interactions with the hMC1b,3–5R has been reevaluated. Analogs with various amino acids in place of Trp9 were synthesized and tested in vitro in receptor affinity binding and cAMP functional assays at human melanocortin receptors 1b, 3, 4 and 5 (hMC1b,3–5R). Several of the new peptides were high potency agonists (partial) at hMC1bR (EC50 from 0.5 to 20 nM) and largely inactive at hMC3–5R. The bulky aromatic side chain in position 9, such as that in Trp, was found not to be essential to agonism (partial) of the studied peptides at hMC1bR.

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