Replacement of Arg with Nle and modified D-Phe in the core sequence of MSHs, Ac-His-D-Phe-Arg-Trp-NH2, leads to hMC1R selectivity and pigmentation

Saghar Mowlazadeh Haghighi, Yang Zhou, Jixun Dai, Jonathon R. Sawyer, Victor J. Hruby, Minying Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Melanoma skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the US [1]. A great need exists for improved formulations and mechanisms to prevent and protect human skin from cancers and other skin damage caused by sunlight exposure. Current efforts to prevent UV damage to human skin, which in many cases leads to melanoma and other skin cancers. The primordial melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) is involved in regulating skin pigmentation and hair color, which is a natural prevention from UV damage. The endogenous melanocortin agonists induce pigmentation and share a core pharmacophore sequence “His-Phe-Arg-Trp”, and it was found that substitution of the Phe by D-Phe results in increasing melanocortin receptor potency. To improve the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) selectivity a series of tetra-peptides with the moiety of Ac-Xaa-Yaa-Nle-Trp-NH2, and structural modifications to reduce electrostatic ligand-receptor interactions have been designed and synthesized. It is discovered that the tetrapeptide Ac-His-D-Phe(4-CF3)-Nle-Trp-NH2 resulted in a potent and selective hMC1R agonist at the hMC1R (EC50: 10 nM). Lizard anolis carolinensis pigmentation study shows very high potency in vivo. NMR studies revealed a reversed β turn structure which led to the potency and selectivity towards the hMC1R.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)815-823
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean journal of medicinal chemistry
StatePublished - May 10 2018


  • Melanocortin peptide
  • Selectivity
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Tetra-peptide
  • hMC1R
  • α-MSH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry


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