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J Biol Chem. 2011 May 20;286(20):17399-421. doi: 10.1074/jbc.X111.244764. Epub 2011 Mar 28.

Adventures with insulin in the islets of Langerhans.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


Insulin is a small but beautifully organized protein with a unique two-chain structure, the first protein to be sequenced. The mechanism of its biosynthesis invited much initial speculation but was finally clarified by the discovery of proinsulin, its single-chain precursor. The rich present-day field of protein precursor processing via post-translational proteolysis within the secretory pathway arose in the early 1970s as an offshoot of studies on insulin biosynthesis, which provided a novel paradigm for the generation of many other small neuroendocrine peptides. Before long, this mechanism was also found to play a role in the production of a much wider spectrum of proteins traversing the secretory pathway (receptors, growth factors, blood-clotting components, and even many viral envelope proteins) occurring in almost all eukaryotic cells. Indeed, yeast provided a key clue in the search for the proprotein convertases, the endoproteases that work along with carboxypeptidases and other modifying enzymes, such as the amidating enzyme complex (PAM), in converting inactive or less active precursor proteins into their fully active peptide products. In this "Reflections" article, I have tried to recount the people and events in my life that led to my involvement first in basic biochemical research and then on to insulin, proinsulin, and many relevant related areas that continue to fascinate and challenge my colleagues and me, as well as many other biomedical scientists today, as diabetes mellitus increasingly threatens human health throughout our contemporary world.

© 2011 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

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