Examination of conformationally constrained melanotropin peptides (Ac- Nle4-c[Asp5-His-Phe7 Arg-Trp9-Ala-Lys]-NH2) on four human melanotropin receptors (hMC1R, hMC3R, hMC4R, and hMC5R) resulted in identifying the importance of ligand stereochemistry at positions 5, 7, and 9 for agonist binding affinity and receptor selectivity. A trend in ligand structure- activity relationships emerged for these peptides, with the hMC1R and hMC4R possessing similar tendencies, as did the hMC3R and hMC5R. α-MSH (Ac-Ser- Tyr-Ser-Met4-Glu-His-Phe7-Arg-Trp-Gly-Lys-Pro-Val-NH2), NDP-MSH (Ac-Ser- Tyr-Ser-Nle4-Glu-His-D-Phe7-Arg-Trp-Gly-Lys-Pro-Val-NH2), and MTII (Ac- Nle4-c[Asp5,D-Phe7,Lys10]-α-MSH(4-10)-NH2) were also examined at each of these melanocortin receptors. Interestingly, the linear NDP-MSH possessed greater binding affinity for the hMC3R and hMC5R than did the cyclic analogue MTII. The peptide Ac-Nle-c[Asp-His-Phe-Arg-D-Trp9-Ala-Lys]-NH2 demonstrated the greatest differentiation in binding affinity between the hMC1R and hMC4R (78-fold). Analogue Ac-Nle-c[Asp-His-Phe7-Arg-Trp-Ala-Lys]-NH2 resulted in micromolar binding affinity (or greater) at the hMC3R and hMC5R, demonstrating the importance of D-Phe7 for ligand binding potency at these receptors. Ac-c[Asp-His-Phe-Arg-Trp-Ala-Lys]-NH2 resulted in loss of binding affinity at the hMC5R, implicating the importance of Nle4 (or a hydrophobic residue in this position) for binding to this receptor. Ac-Nle-c[D-Asp5- His-Phe-Arg-Trp-Ala-Lys]-NH2 was unable to competitively displace [125I]NDP-MSH binding at micromolar concentrations on the hMC3R and hMC5R, suggesting the importance of chirality of Asp5 either for ligand-receptor interactions or for orientation of the side chain lactam bridge and the structural integrity of the peptide conformation. Energy calculations performed for these peptides resulted in the identification of a low-energy ligand conformer family that is common to all the ligands. The differences in ligand binding affinities observed in this study are postulated to be a result of different ligand-receptor complexed interactions and not solely to the ligand structure.