Melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) is a small cyclic peptide expressed in all mammals, mainly in the hypothalamus. MCH acts as a robust integrator of several physiological functions and has crucial roles in the regulation of sleep-wake rhythms, feeding behaviour and metabolism. MCH signalling has a very broad endocrine context and is involved in physiological functions and emotional states associated with metabolism, such as reproduction, anxiety, depression, sleep and circadian rhythms. MCH mediates its functions through two receptors (MCHR1 and MCHR2), of which only MCHR1 is common to all mammals. Owing to the wide variety of MCH downstream signalling pathways, MCHR1 agonists and antagonists have great potential as tools for the directed management of energy balance disorders and associated metabolic complications, and translational strategies using these compounds hold promise for the development of novel treatments for obesity. This Review provides an overview of the numerous roles of MCH in energy and glucose homeostasis, as well as in regulation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic circuits that encode the hedonic component of food intake.