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Human POMC processing in vitro and in vivo revealed by quantitative peptidomics

By Peter Kirwan, Richard Kay, Bas Brouwers, Vicente Herranz-Perez, Magdalena Jura, Pierre Larraufie, Jason Pembroke, Theresa Bartels, Anne White, Fiona Gribble, Frank Reimann, I. Sadaf Farooqi, Stephen O’Rahilly, Florian T. Merkle

Posted 31 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/257121 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.molmet.2018.08.006)

Human obesity can result from the aberrant production or processing of proopiomelanocortin (POMC) in hypothalamic neurons, but it is unclear which human POMC-derived peptides are most relevant to body weight regulation. To address this question, we analysed both hypothalamic neurons derived from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) and primary human hypothalamic tissue using quantitative liquid chromatography tandem mass spectroscopy (LC-MS/MS). In both in vitro- and in vivo-derived samples, we found that POMC was processed into β-melanocyte stimulating hormone (β-MSH), whose existence in the human brain has been controversial. β-MSH and desacetyl α-MSH (d-α-MSH) were produced at roughly equimolar concentrations and in vast excess to acetylated α-MSH (5-to 200-fold), suggesting that the importance of both d-α-MSH and β-MSH to human obesity has been underestimated. Since body weight is sensitive to changes in MSH concentration, we asked whether hPSC-derived hypothalamic neurons could provide mechanistic insights into the processing and secretion of MSH peptides. We found that cultured human hypothalamic neurons appropriately trafficked POMC and its derivatives, and robustly (P<0.0001) secreted them when depolarised. Furthermore, the adipocyte-derived hormone leptin significantly (P<0.01) promoted their production of both d-α-MSH and β-MSH. These results establish hPSC-derived hypothalamic neurons as a model system for studying human-specific aspects of POMC processing that might be therapeutically harnessed to treat obesity.

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