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    The melanocortin system plays an essential role in the regulation of immune activity. The anti-inflammatory microenvironment of the eye is dependent on the expression of the melanocortin-neuropeptide alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). In addition, the melanocortin system may have a role in retinal development and retinal cell survival under conditions of retinal degeneration. We have found that treating experimental autoimmune uveitis (EAU) with α-MSH suppresses retinal inflammation. Also, this augmentation of the melanocortin system promotes immune tolerance and protection of the retinal structure. The benefit of α-MSH-therapy appears to be dependent on different melanocortin receptors. Therefore, we treated EAU mice with α-MSH-analogs with different melanocortin-receptor targets. This approach demonstrated which melanocortin-receptors suppress inflammation, preserve retinal structure, and induce immune tolerance in uveitis. At the chronic stage of EAU the mice were injected twice 1 day apart with 50 μg of α-MSH or an α-MSH-analog. The α-MSH-analogs were a pan-agonist PL8331, PL8177 (potent MC1r-only agonist), PL5000 (a pan-agonist with no MC5r functional activity), MT-II (same as PL5000) and PG901 (MC5r agonist, but also an antagonist to MC3r, and MC4r). Clinical EAU scores were measured until resolution in the α-MSH-treated mice, when the eyes were collected for histology, and spleen cells collected for retinal-antigen-stimulated cytokine production. Significant suppression of EAU was seen with α-MSH or PL8331 treatment. This was accompanied with significant preservation of retinal structure. A similar effect was seen in EAU-mice that were treated with PL8177, except the suppression of EAU was temporary. In EAU mice treated with PL5000, MTII, or PG901, there was no suppression of EAU with a significant loss in whole retina and outer-nuclear layer thickness. There was significant suppression of IL-17 with induction of IL-10 by retinal-antigen stimulated spleen T> cells from EAU mice treated with α-MSH, PL8331, PL8177, or PL5000, but not from EAU mice treated with MT-II, or PG901. Our previous studies show the melanocortin system's importance in maintaining ocular immune privilege and that α-MSH-treatment accelerates recovery and induces retinal-antigen-specific regulatory immunity in EAU. Our current results show that this activity is centered around MC1r and MC5r. In addition, the results suggest that a therapeutic potential to target MC1r and MC5r together to suppress uveitis induces regulatory immunity with potentially maintaining a normal retinal structure. Copyright © 2022 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


    Tat Fong Ng, Kaleb Dawit, Andrew W Taylor. Melanocortin receptor agonists suppress experimental autoimmune uveitis. Experimental eye research. 2022 May;218:108986

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    PMID: 35196505

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