The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) is essential for control of energy homeostasis in vertebrates. MC4R interacts with melanocortin receptor accessory protein 2 (MRAP2) in vitro, but its functions in vivo are unknown. We found that MRAP2a, a larval form, stimulates growth of zebrafish by specifically blocking the action of MC4R. In cell culture, this protein binds MC4R and reduces the ability of the receptor to bind its ligand, α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH). A paralog, MRAP2b, expressed later in development, also binds MC4R but increases ligand sensitivity. Thus, MRAP2 proteins allow for developmental control of MC4R activity, with MRAP2a blocking its function and stimulating growth during larval development, whereas MRAP2b enhances responsiveness to α-MSH once the zebrafish begins feeding, thus increasing the capacity for regulated feeding and growth.
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