The central melanocortin system has been demonstrated to play a pivotal role in energy homeostasis. Genetic disruption of this system causes obesity in both humans and mice. Previous experiments have shown that centrally-administered melanocortin agonists inhibit food intake and stimulate oxygen consumption. Here we report that centrally-administered melanocortin agonists also inhibit basal insulin release, and alter glucose tolerance. Furthermore, increased plasma insulin levels occur in the young lean MC4-R knockout (MC4-RKO) mouse, and impaired insulin tolerance takes place before the onset of detectable hyperphagia or obesity. These data suggest that the central melanocortin system regulates not only energy intake and expenditure, but also processes related to energy partitioning, as indicated by effects on insulin release and peripheral insulin responsiveness. Previous studies emphasize the role of excess adipose mass in the development of tissue insulin resistance, leading to type II diabetes. The data presented here show that defects in the central control of glucose homeostasis may be an additional factor in some types of obesity-associated type II diabetes.
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