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J Biol Chem. 1994 Mar 18;269(11):8445-54.

Insulin gene expression and insulin synthesis in mammalian neuronal cells.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, St. Louis University School of Medicine, Missouri.


To demonstrate the presence of de novo synthesis in central mammalian neurons, we cloned and sequenced a rabbit insulin cDNA from pancreas and used it to define sequences encoding insulin mRNA from postnatal rabbit brain. We observed transcription/elongation of nascent insulin transcripts, characterized the size of these transcripts, and localized them to specific neurons in certain catecholaminergic-rich areas of the central nervous system. RNase protection assays using a rabbit probe spanning a region from 14 bases 5' to the translation start site through all but 18 bases of the sequence encoding the A-chain of insulin showed two bands in rabbit brain RNA and only one band in pancreas. The larger band in brain was the same size as that in pancreatic RNA; the other was approximately 10 bases shorter. Because the sequence of a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction product from brain RNA was identical to pancreatic RNA sequence in the region corresponding to the 3' region of the probe, the smaller band in brain is most consistent with a sequence mismatch in some brain mRNA in the region corresponding to the 5'-end of the probe. In situ hybridization localized insulin mRNA to anatomical regions involved with olfaction and higher association of the limbic system. High performance liquid chromatography, radioimmunoassay, and [35S]cysteine metabolic labeling of cultured neuronal and glial cells indicated extracellular secretion of immunoprecipitable insulin by neurons only. Presence of insulin transcripts within specific neurons with extracellular secretion of the peptide suggests a specialized biological role.

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