Objective: Melanocortin-4 receptors (MC4Rs) are highly expressed by dopamine-secreting neurons of the mesolimbic tract, but their functional role has not been fully resolved. Voluntary wheel running (VWR) induces adaptations in the mesolimbic dopamine system and has a myriad of long-term beneficial effects on health. In the present experiments we asked whether MC4R function regulates the effects of VWR, and whether VWR ameliorates MC4R-associated symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. Methods: Electrically evoked dopamine release was measured in slice preparations from sedentary wild-type and MC4R-deficient Mc4rK314X (HOM) rats. VWR was assessed in wild-type and HOM rats, and in MC4R-deficient loxTBMc4r mice, wild-type mice body weight-matched to loxTBMc4r mice, and wild-type mice with intracerebroventricular administration of the MC4R antagonist SHU9119. Mesolimbic dopamine system function (gene/protein expression) and metabolic parameters were examined in wheel-running and sedentary wild-type and HOM rats. Results: Sedentary obese HOM rats had increased electrically evoked dopamine release in several ventral tegmental area (VTA) projection sites compared to wild-type controls. MC4R loss-of-function decreased VWR, and this was partially independent of body weight. HOM wheel-runners had attenuated markers of intracellular D1-type dopamine receptor signaling despite increased dopamine flux in the VTA. VWR increased and decreased ΔFosB levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of wild-type and HOM runners, respectively. VWR improved metabolic parameters in wild-type wheel-runners. Finally, moderate voluntary exercise corrected many aspects of the metabolic syndrome in HOM runners. Conclusions: Central dopamine dysregulation during VWR reinforces the link between MC4R function and molecular and behavioral responding to rewards. The data also suggest that exercise can be a successful lifestyle intervention in MC4R-haploinsufficient individuals despite reduced positive reinforcement during exercise training.