The New Elements of Insulin Signaling: Insulin Receptor Substrate-1 and Proteins With SH2 Domains

  1. Morris F White
  1. Research Division, Joslin Diabetes Center, Department of Medicine and the Program in Cell and Developmental Biology, Harvard Medical School Boston, Massachusetts
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Morris F. White, Research Division, Joslin Diabetes Center, 1 Joslin Place, Boston, MA 02215.


Since the discovery of insulin and its receptor, the downstream elements responsible for the pleiotropic insulin signal have been difficult to define. The recently discovered insulin receptor substrate, IRS-1, provides an innovative and simple way to think about this problem: IRS-1 may mediate the control of various cellular processes by insulin. Overexpression of IRS-1 enhances insulin-stimulated DNA synthesis in Chinese hamster ovary cells, and microinjection of IRS-1 protein potentiates the maturation of Xenopus oocytes. We suspect that insulin signals are enabled when the activated insulin receptor kinase phosphorylates specific tyrosine residues in IRS-1. These phosphorylated sites associate with high affinity to cellular proteins that contain SH2 (src homology-2) domains. This association is specific and depends on the amino acid sequence surrounding the phosphotyrosine residue and the isoform of the SH2 domain. A growing number of SH2 domain–containing proteins have been identified, and we suspect that IRS-1 has the potential to simultaneously regulate many of them. We have only begun to identify the specific proteins that associate with phosphorylated IRS-1. One of them, the phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase, is activated when the SH2 domains in its 85,000-Mr regulatory subunit bind to phosphorylated IRS-1. IRS-1 also interacts with other proteins such as SHPTP2, a novel SH2 domain–containing Tyr phosphatase, and GRB-2/sem-5, a protein that is implicated in p21ras signaling. The interaction between phosphorylated IRS-1 and multiple SH2 domain–containing proteins may ultimately explain the pleiotropic effects of insulin.

  • Received December 23, 1992.
  • Revision received February 3, 1993.
  • Accepted February 3, 1993.
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