Agouti-related protein (AGRP) is a recently described homolog of the skin agouti protein. AGRP is transcribed primarily in the adrenal and hypothalamus and is a high affinity antagonist of the neural melanocortin-3 and melanocortin-4 receptors. The perikarya expressing AGRP messenger RNA are found in the arcuate nucleus of the rat and rhesus monkey. Using a polyclonal antibody against the pharmacologically active domain of AGRP (amino acids 83- 132), we have also characterized the distribution of AGRP-immunoreactive neurons in both species. The major fiber tracts are conserved in both species, with dense projections originating in the arcuate nucleus and proceeding along the third ventricle. Dense fiber bundles are also visible in the paraventricular, dorsomedial, and posterior nuclei in the hypothalamus, in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and in the lateral septal nucleus of the septal region. AGRP-containing neurons are not visualized in a number of areas, including portions of the amygdala, thalamus, and brain stem, that express MC3-R and MC4-R messenger RNA and receive innervation from POMC neurons that serve as the source of melanocortin agonists. Thus, AGRP is most likely to be involved in modulating a conserved subset of the physiological functions of central melanocortin peptides. Based on the particular distribution of AGRP neurons, those functions are likely to include the central control of energy homeostasis.
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