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Am J Physiol. 1994 Feb;266(2 Pt 1):C319-34.

The insulin receptor: structure, function, and signaling.

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Department of Biochemistry, Boston University, School of Medicine, Massachusetts 02118.


The insulin receptor is a member of the ligand-activated receptor and tyrosine kinase family of transmembrane signaling proteins that collectively are fundamentally important regulators of cell differentiation, growth, and metabolism. The insulin receptor has a number of unique physiological and biochemical properties that distinguish it from other members of this large well-studied receptor family. The main physiological role of the insulin receptor appears to be metabolic regulation, whereas all other receptor tyrosine kinases are engaged in regulating cell growth and/or differentiation. Receptor tyrosine kinases are allosterically regulated by their cognate ligands and function as dimers. In all cases but the insulin receptor (and 2 closely related receptors), these dimers are noncovalent, but insulin receptors are covalently maintained as functional dimers by disulfide bonds. The initial response to the ligand is receptor autophosphorylation for all receptor tyrosine kinases. In most cases, this results in receptor association of effector molecules that have unique recognition domains for phosphotyrosine residues and whose binding to these results in a biological response. For the insulin receptor, this does not occur; rather, it phosphorylates a large substrate protein that, in turn, engages effector molecules. Possible reasons for these differences are discussed in this review. The chemistry of insulin is very well characterized because of possible therapeutic interventions in diabetes using insulin derivatives. This has allowed the synthesis of many insulin derivatives, and we review our recent exploitation of one such derivative to understand the biochemistry of the interaction of this ligand with the receptor and to dissect the complicated steps of ligand-induced insulin receptor autophosphorylation. We note possible future directions in the study of the insulin receptor and its intracellular signaling pathway(s).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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