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Respir Res. 2002;3:27. Epub 2002 Oct 23.

Insulin utilizes the PI 3-kinase pathway to inhibit SP-A gene expression in lung epithelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1109, USA.



It has been proposed that high insulin levels may cause delayed lung development in the fetuses of diabetic mothers. A key event in lung development is the production of adequate amounts of pulmonary surfactant. Insulin inhibits the expression of surfactant protein A (SP-A), the major surfactant-associated protein, in lung epithelial cells. In the present study, we investigated the signal transduction pathways involved in insulin inhibition of SP-A gene expression.


H441 cells, a human lung adenocarcinoma cell line, or human fetal lung explants were incubated with or without insulin. Transcription run-on assays were used to determine SP-A gene transcription rates. Northern blot analysis was used to examine the effect of various signal transduction inhibitors on SP-A gene expression. Immunoblot analysis was used to evaluate the levels and phosphorylation states of signal transduction protein kinases.


Insulin decreased SP-A gene transcription in human lung epithelial cells within 1 hour. Insulin did not affect p44/42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphorylation and the insulin inhibition of SP-A mRNA levels was not affected by PD98059, an inhibitor of the p44/42 MAPK pathway. In contrast, insulin increased p70 S6 kinase Thr389 phosphorylation within 15 minutes. Wortmannin or LY294002, both inhibitors of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase), or rapamycin, an inhibitor of the activation of p70 S6 kinase, a downstream effector in the PI 3-kinase pathway, abolished or attenuated the insulin-induced inhibition of SP-A mRNA levels.


Insulin inhibition of SP-A gene expression in lung epithelial cells probably occurs via the rapamycin-sensitive PI 3-kinase signaling pathway.

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