Plasma α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone: sex differences and correlations with obesity

William T. Donahoo, Teri L. Hernandez, Jessica L. Costa, Dalan R. Jensen, Alison M. Morris, Miles B. Brennan, Ute Hochgeschwender, Robert H. Eckel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Rodent experiments raise the possibility of a regulatory role of peripheral α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) in obesity and metabolism, but human data on peripheral α-MSH levels remain fragmentary. Because of the possible relationship between α-MSH and obesity, we endeavored to test the hypothesis that higher levels of α-MSH in obese patients would correlate with leptin levels and with other markers of obesity. Sixty normal-weight to obese healthy men and women participated. Weight, measures of body composition, and diet diaries were obtained; fasting blood was analyzed for α-MSH, lipids, glucose, insulin, leptin, and adiponectin. To begin to understand the source of peripherally measured hormones, α-MSH was also measured in serum samples from 5 individuals with untreated Addison disease. Levels of α-MSH were higher in men vs women (10.1 ± 4.3 vs 7.6 ± 3.4 pmol/L, P = .019), and α-MSH levels were higher in patients with Addison disease vs controls (17.7 ± 2.3 vs 8.7 ± 0.52 pmol/L, P < .001). Measures of adiposity correlated with insulin and leptin in men and women, and with adiponectin in women. α-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone levels did not correlate significantly with any parameter of adiposity or diet composition. The elevated α-MSH levels in patients with untreated Addison disease suggest possible pituitary secretion of α-MSH to the periphery. The lack of correlation between peripheral α-MSH and parameters of adiposity suggests that endogenous plasma α-MSH levels are not a metric for body composition per se.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-21
Number of pages6
JournalMetabolism: Clinical and Experimental
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


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