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Biochemistry. 2000 Oct 10;39(40):12103-12.

Mechanism of transmembrane signaling: insulin binding and the insulin receptor.

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Ontario Cancer Institute and Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2M9, Canada.

Erratum in

  • Biochemistry 2001 Jun 12;40(23):6988.


Transmembrane signaling via receptor tyrosine kinases generally requires oligomerization of receptor monomers, with the formation of ligand-induced dimers or higher multimers of the extracellular domains of the receptors. Such formations are expected to juxtapose the intracellular kinase domains at the correct distances and orientations for transphosphorylation. For receptors of the insulin receptor family that are constitutively dimeric, or those that form noncovalent dimers without ligands, the mechanism must be more complex. For these, the conformation must be changed by the ligand from one that prevents activation to one that is permissive for kinase phosphorylation. How the insulin ligand accomplishes this action has remained a puzzle since the discovery of the insulin receptor over 2 decades ago, primarily because membrane proteins in general have been refractory to structure determination by crystallography. However, high-resolution structural evidence on individual separate subdomains of the insulin receptor and of analogous proteins has been obtained. The recently solved quaternary structure of the complete dimeric insulin receptor in the presence of insulin has now served as the structural envelope into which such individual domains were fitted. The combined structure has provided answers on the details of insulin/receptor interactions in the binding site and on the mechanism of transmembrane signaling of this covalent dimer. The structure explains many observations on the behavior of the receptor, from greater or lesser binding of insulin and its variants, point and deletion mutants of the receptor, to antibody-binding patterns, and to the effects on basal and insulin-stimulated autophosphorylation under mild reducing conditions.

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