The central melanocortin receptors, melanocortin-4 (MC4R) and melanocortin-3 (MC3R), are involved in the regulation of satiety and energy homeostasis. The MC4R in particular has become a pharmaceutical industry drug target due to its direct involvement in the regulation of food intake and its potential therapeutic application for the treatment of obesity-related diseases. The melanocortin receptors are stimulated by the native ligand, α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). The potent and enzymatically stable analogue NDP-MSH (Ac-Ser-Tyr-Ser-Nle-Glu-His-DPhe-Arg-Trp-Gly-Lys-Pro-Val-NH2) is a lead peptide for the identification of melanocortin amino acids important for receptor molecular recognition and stimulation. We have synthesized nine peptide fragments of NDP-MSH, deleting N- and C-terminal amino acids to determine the "minimally active" sequence of NDP-MSH. Additionally, five peptides were synthesized to study stereochemical inversion at the Phe 7 and Trp 9 positions in attempts to increase tetra- and tripeptide potencies. These peptide analogues were pharmacologically characterized at the mouse melanocortin MC1, MC3, MC4, and MC5 receptors. This study has identified the Ac-His-DPhe-Arg-Trp-NH2 tetrapeptide as possessing 10 nM agonist activity at the brain MC4R. The tripeptide Ac-DPhe-Arg-Trp-NH2 possessed micromolar agonist activities at the MC1R, MC4R, and MC5R but only slight stimulatory activity was observed at the MC3R (at up to 100 μM concentration). This study has also examined to importance of both N- and C-terminal NDP-MSH amino acids at the different melanocortin receptors, providing information for drug design and identification of putative ligand-receptor interactions.