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Prog Neurobiol. 1998 Jan;54(1):35-54.

Towards understanding the role of insulin in the brain: lessons from insulin-related signaling systems in the invertebrate brain.

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Department of Molecular Neurobiology, Graduate School Neurosciences Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands.


Insulin is a molecule that has played a key role in several of the most important landmarks in medical and biological research. It is one of the most extensively studied protein hormones, and its structure and function have been elucidated in many vertebrate species, ranging from man to hagfish and turkey. The structure, function as well as tissue of synthesis of vertebrate insulins are strictly conserved. The structural identification of insulin-related peptides from invertebrates has disrupted the picture of an evolutionary stable peptide hormone. Insulin-related peptides in molluscs and insects turned out to be a structurally diverse group encoded by large multi-gene families that are uniquely expressed in the brain and serve functions different from vertebrate insulin. In this review, we discuss invertebrate insulins in detail. We examine how these peptides relate to the model role that vertebrate insulin has played over the years; however, more importantly, we discuss several unique principles that can be learned from them. We show how diversity of these peptides is generated at the genetic level and how the structural diversity of the peptides is linked to the exclusive presence of a single type of neuronal insulin receptor-related receptor. We also discuss the fact that the invertebrate peptides, in addition to a hormonal role, may also act in a synaptic and/or nonsynaptic fashion as transmitters/neuromodulators on neurons in the brain. It can be expected that the use of well-defined neuronal preparations in invertebrates may lead to a further understanding of these novel functions and may act as guide preparations for a possible role of insulin and its relatives in the vertebrate brain.

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