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Shree Senthil Kumar, Marie-Louise Ward, and Kathleen Grace Mountjoy

The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R), a critical G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) regulating energy homeostasis, activates multiple signalling pathways, including mobilisation of intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i). However, very little is known about the physiological significance of MC4R-induced [Ca2+]i since few studies measure MC4R-induced [Ca2+]i. High-throughput, read-out assays for [Ca2+]i have proven unreliable for overexpressed GPCRs like MC4R, which exhibit low sensitivity mobilising [Ca2+]i. Therefore, we developed, optimised, and validated a robust quantitative high-throughput assay using Fura-2 ratio-metric calcium dye and HEK293 cells stably transfected with MC4R. The quantitation enables direct comparisons between assays and even between different research laboratories. Assay conditions were optimised step-by-step to eliminate interference from stretch-activated receptor increases in [Ca2+]i and to maximise ligand-activated MC4R-induced [Ca2+]i. Calcium imaging was performed using a PheraStar FS multi-well plate reader. Probenecid, included in the buffers to prevent extrusion of Fura-2 dye from cells, was found to interfere with the EGTA-chelation of calcium, required to determine Rmin for quantitation of [Ca2+]i. Therefore, we developed a method to determine Rmin in specific wells without probenecid, which was run in parallel with each assay. The validation of the assay was shown by reproducible α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) concentration-dependent activation of the stably expressed human MC4R (hMC4R) and mouse MC4R (mMC4R), inducing increases in [Ca2+]i, for three independent experiments. This robust, reproducible, high-throughput assay that quantitatively measures MC4R-induced mobilisation of [Ca2+]i in vitro has potential to advance the development of therapeutic drugs and understanding of MC4R signalling associated with human obesity.