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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Melanocortin peptides inhibit urate crystal-induced activation of phagocytic cells

Franco Capsoni1*, Anna Maria Ongari1, Eva Reali2 and Anna Catania3

Author Affiliations

1 Rheumatology Unit, Istituto Ortopedico Galeazzi IRCCS (Istituto Di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico), University of Milan, Via Riccardo Galeazzi 4, 20161 Milan, Italy

2 INGM-National Institute of Molecular Genetics, Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Mangiagalli e Regina Elena, Via Francesco Sforza 28, 20122 Milan, Italy

3 Center for Preclinical Investigation, Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Mangiagalli e Regina Elena, Via Francesco Sforza 28, 20122 Milan, Italy

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2009, 11:R151  doi:10.1186/ar2827

Published: 8 October 2009



The melanocortin peptides have marked anti-inflammatory potential, primarily through inhibition of proinflammatory cytokine production and action on phagocytic cell functions. Gout is an acute form of arthritis caused by the deposition of urate crystals, in which phagocytic cells and cytokines play a major pathogenic role. We examined whether alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) and its synthetic derivative (CKPV)2 influence urate crystal-induced monocyte (Mo) activation and neutrophil responses in vitro.


Purified Mos were stimulated with monosodium urate (MSU) crystals in the presence or absence of melanocortin peptides. The supernatants were tested for their ability to induce neutrophil activation in terms of chemotaxis, production of reactive oxygen intermediates (ROIs), and membrane expression of CD11b, Toll-like receptor-2 (TLR2) and TLR4. The proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and caspase-1 were determined in the cell-free supernatants. In parallel experiments, purified neutrophils were preincubated overnight with or without melanocortin peptides before the functional assays.


The supernatants from MSU crystal-stimulated Mos exerted chemoattractant and priming activity on neutrophils, estimated as ROI production and CD11b membrane expression. The supernatants of Mos stimulated with MSU in the presence of melanocortin peptides had less chemoattractant activity for neutrophils and less ability to prime neutrophils for CD11b membrane expression and oxidative burst. MSU crystal-stimulated Mos produced significant levels of IL-1β, IL-8, TNF-α, and caspase-1. The concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines, but not of caspase-1, were reduced in the supernatants from Mos stimulated by MSU crystals in the presence of melanocortin peptides. Overnight incubation of neutrophils with the peptides significantly inhibited their ability to migrate toward chemotactic supernatants and their capacity to be primed in terms of ROI production.


α-MSH and (CKPV)2 have a dual effect on MSU crystal-induced inflammation, inhibiting the Mos' ability to produce neutrophil chemoattractants and activating compounds and preventing the neutrophil responses to these proinflammatory substances. These findings reinforce previous observations on the potential role of α-MSH and related peptides as a new class of drugs for treatment of inflammatory arthritis.