Melanocortin peptides, derived from POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin) are produced in the ARH (arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus) neurons and the neurons in the commissural NTS (nucleus of the solitary tract) of the brainstem, in anterior and intermediate lobes of the pituitary, skin and a wide range of peripheral tissues, including reproductive organs. A hypothetical model for functional roles of melanocortin receptors in maintaining energy balance was proposed in 1997. Since this time, there has been an extraordinary amount of knowledge gained about POMC-derived peptides in relation to energy homoeostasis. Development of a Pomc-null mouse provided definitive proof that POMC-derived peptides are critical for the regulation of energy homoeostasis. The melanocortin system consists of endogenous agonists and antagonists, five melanocortin receptor subtypes and receptor accessory proteins. The melanocortin system, as is now known, is far more complex than most of us could have imagined in 1997, and, similarly, the importance of this system for regulating energy homoeostasis in the general human population is much greater than we would have predicted. Of the known factors that can cause human obesity, or protect against it, the melanocortin system is by far the most significant. The present review is a discussion of the current understanding of the roles and mechanism of action of POMC, melanocortin receptors and AgRP (agouti-related peptide) in obesity and Type 2 diabetes and how the central and/or peripheral melanocortin systems mediate nutrient, leptin, insulin, gut hormone and cytokine regulation of energy homoeostasis.

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