Regulation of the avian central melanocortin system and the role of leptin

Timothy Boswell*, Ian C. Dunn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The avian central melanocortin system is well conserved between birds and mammals in terms of the component genes, the localisation of their expression in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus, the effects on feeding behaviour of their encoded peptides and the sensitivity of agouti-related protein (AGRP) and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene expression to changes in energy status. Our recent research has demonstrated that AGRP gene expression precisely differentiates between broiler breeder hens with different histories of chronic food restriction and refeeding. We have also shown that the sensitivity of AGRP gene expression to loss of energy stores is maintained even when food intake has been voluntarily reduced in chickens during incubation and in response to a stressor. However, the similarity between birds and mammals does not appear to extend to the way AGRP and POMC gene expression are regulated. In particular, the preliminary evidence from the discovery of the first avian leptin (LEP) genes suggests that LEP is more pleiotropic in birds and may not even be involved in regulating energy balance. Similarly, ghrelin exerts inhibitory, rather than stimulatory, effects on food intake. The fact that the importance of these prominent long-term regulators of AGRP and POMC expression in mammals appears diminished in birds suggests that the balance of regulatory inputs in birds may have shifted to more short-term influences such as the tone of cholecystokinin (CCK) signalling. This is likely to be related to the different metabolic fuelling required to support flight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-283
JournalGeneral And Comparative Endocrinology
Early online date9 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2015


  • AGRP
  • AMPK
  • Arcuate nucleus
  • Chicken
  • Leptin
  • POMC


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