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Pharmacol Rev. 2010 Jun;62(2):199-236. doi: 10.1124/pr.109.002469. Epub 2010 Apr 14.

Insulin-like growth factor-I regulation of immune function: a potential therapeutic target in autoimmune diseases?

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Kellogg Eye Center, University of Michigan Medical School, 1000 Wall Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48105, USA.


This topically limited review explores the relationship between the immune system and insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II) and the proteins through which they act, including IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR) and the IGF-I binding proteins. The IGF/IGF-IR pathway plays important and diverse roles in tissue development and function. It regulates cell cycle progression, apoptosis, and the translation of proteins. Many of the consequences ascribed to IGF-IR activation result from its association with several accessory proteins that are either identical or closely related to those involved in insulin receptor signaling. Relatively recent awareness that IGF-I and IGF-IR regulate immune function has cast this pathway in an unexpected light; it may represent an important switch governing the quality and amplitude of immune responses. IGF-I/IGF-IR signaling may also participate in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, although its relationship with these processes seems complex and relatively unexplored. On the one hand, IGF-I seems to protect experimental animals from developing insulin-deficient diabetes mellitus. In contrast, activating antibodies directed at IGF-IR have been detected in patients with Graves' disease, where the receptor is overexpressed by multiple cell types. The frequency of IGF-IR+ B and T cells is substantially increased in patients with that disease. Potential involvement of IGF-I and IGF-IR in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases suggests that this pathway might constitute an attractive therapeutic target. IGF-IR has been targeted in efforts directed toward drug development for cancer, employing both small-molecule and monoclonal antibody approaches. These have been generally well-tolerated. Recognizing the broader role of IGF-IR in regulating both normal and pathological immune responses may offer important opportunities for therapeutic intervention in several allied diseases that have proven particularly difficult to treat.

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