Genetic studies in humans and mice have demonstrated that the Melanocortin 4 Receptor (MC4R) is essential for adequate regulation of food intake and body weight. MC4R is expressed in a small population of hypothalamic neurons and very little is known about its molecular and cellular dynamics in vivo. We have recently demonstrated that MC4R localizes to and functions at the primary cilia of select hypothalamic neurons to control energy homeostasis. The primary cilium is a solitary hair-like organelle that serves as an antenna sensing extracellular environment. Defective primary cilia lead to a series of conditions known as ciliopathies, that can manifest through a variety of clinical features, including hyperphagia and obesity.
Here we establish that the ciliary localization and the body weight regulating activity of MC4R is dependent on a single-pass transmembrane accessory protein: the Melanocortin Receptor Associated Protein 2 (MRAP2). Specifically, we show that deleting MRAP2 specifically from MC4R neurons (MC4RMRAP2-/-) leads to early onset obesity and hyperphagia. In vitro, co-expression of MRAP2 in ciliated IMCD3 cells increases MC4R localization to the primary cilium. We further demonstrate that MRAP2 and MC4R colocalize specifically at the primary cilium in vivo, and that MC4R fails to localize to the primary cilium when MRAP2 is deleted.
These findings highlight the role of the primary cilium in the control of energy homeostasis, and the importance of accessory proteins for the localization of GPCRs to the primary cilium where they exert their function, in this case being critical for the regulation of energy homeostasis.