POMC is cleaved to give rise to multiple peptide hormones. Each of these peptides is packaged in large dense-core vesicles that are released from the cells by exocytosis in response to appropriate stimulation:
The POMC gene is located on chromosome 2p23.3. The POMC gene is expressed in both the anterior and intermediate lobes of the pituitary gland. This gene encodes a 285-amino acid polypeptide hormone precursor that undergoes extensive, tissue-specific, post-translational processing via cleavage by subtilisin-like enzymes known as prohormone convertases. The encoded protein is synthesized mainly in corticotroph cells of the anterior pituitary, where four cleavage sites are used; adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH), essential for normal steroidogenesis and the maintenance of normal adrenal weight, and β-lipotropin are the major end-products. However, there are at least eight potential cleavage sites within the polypeptide precursor and, depending on tissue type and the available convertases, processing may yield as many as ten biologically active peptides involved in diverse cellular functions. Cleavage sites consist of the sequences Arg-Lys, Lys-Arg, or Lys-Lys. Enzymes responsible for processing of POMC peptides include prohormone convertase 1 (PC1), prohormone convertase 2 (PC2), carboxypeptidase E (CPE), peptidyl α-amidating monooxygenase (PAM), N-acetyltransferase (N-AT), and prolylcarboxypeptidase (PRCP).
The processing of POMC involves glycosylations, acetylations, and extensive proteolytic cleavage at sites shown to contain regions of basic protein sequences. However, the proteases that recognize these cleavage sites are tissue-specific. In some tissues, including the hypothalamus, placenta, and epithelium, all cleavage sites may be used, giving rise to peptides with roles in pain and energy homeostasis, melanocyte stimulation, and immune modulation. These include several distinct melanotropins, lipotropins, and endorphins that are contained within the adrenocorticotrophin and β-lipotropin peptides.
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