What is Melanocyte-stimulating Hormone (MSH)? High and low values | Lab results explained

What is Melanocyte-stimulating Hormone (MSH)?

Melanocyte-Stimulating hormone (MSH) characterizes a group of hormones made by the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and skin cells. MSH is essential for preserving the skin from ultraviolet rays, the development of pigmentation, and controlling appetite. 

Functions of Melanocyte-stimulating Hormone (MSH):

MSH sits as the central hub of a series of important effects.
– MSH controls hypothalamic production of melatonin and endorphins.
– MSH modulates the immune system and controls nerve function
– MSH controls many protective effects in the skin, gut and mucus membranes of the nose and lung. 
– MSH controls the peripheral release of cytokines; when there isn’t enough MSH, the peripheral inflammatory effects are multiplied.
– MSH also controls pituitary function, with 60% of MSH deficient patients not having enough antidiuretic hormone.

Where is Melanocyte-stimulating Hormone (MSH) being produced?

It is made when leptin is able to activate its receptor in the proopio-melanocortin (POMC) pathway. If the receptor is damaged by peripheral immune effects, such as the release of too many pro-inflammatory cytokines, then the receptor doesn’t work right and MSH is not made. Leptin controls storage of fatty acids as fat, so MSH and leptin are a major source of interest.


MSH deficiency causes chronic fatigue and chronic pain. 

Without MSH, deficiency creates chronic non-restful sleep and chronic increased perception of pain, respectively. 

MSH also controls pituitary function, with 60% of MSH deficient patients not having enough antidiuretic hormone. These patients will be thirsty all the time, urinate frequently and often will have unusual sensitivity to static electrical shocks. 

40% of MSH deficient patients won’t regulate male hormone production and another 40% won’t regulate proper control of ACTH and cortisol.


Having high levels of MSH leads to increased production of melanin. This enhancement occurs due to long-term sun exposure or tanning. People with very light skin often make less melanin because their MSH receptors vary. This means they don’t respond to the MSH levels in their blood. 

Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) is a common skin concern in patients with adrenal insufficiency (low levels of adrenal hormones, mainly cortisol).

As a result, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to make more hormones that might “boost” the adrenal glands. This hormone can be broken down to make MSH, which causes hyperpigmentation. 

MSH levels are also high during pregnancy and in women who take birth control pills, which can also cause hyperpigmentation. 

Cushing’s syndrome, another endocrine condition, can also lead to hyperpigmentation.


Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

The information on is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

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