Biochemical Journal


A systematic study of the degradation of physiological concentrations of 125I-labelled insulin was performed in intact fat-pads, isolated adipocytes and subcellular fractions of isolated adipocytes. The findings indicate that insulin is rapidly degraded to low-molecular-weight peptides and/or amino acids by the intact tissue and isolated cells. Of the total insulin-degradation products present after incubation with an intact fat-pad, 94% is recovered in the medium, indicating that these products are not retained by the cells or tissue. The plasma membranes do not degrade insulin significantly in the absence of reduced glutathione, and over 99% of the cellular degradative capacity is found in the postmicrosomal supernatant (cytosol). The cytosol degrades insulin to several labelled fragments that are intermediate in size between insulin and insulin A chain, as well as to the low-molecular-weight tissue degradation products. Inclusion of plasma membranes with cytosol accelerates the cleavage of the intermediate fragments to the size of the small products seen with the intact tissue. However, plasma membranes do not increase the initial step in the degradation of insulin when incubated with cytosol, suggesting that the insulin receptor is not involved with the direct cleavage of insulin. This study supports the hypothesis that the bulk of insulin degradation occurs in the adipocyte cytosol, where intermediate-sized fragments are generated and rapidly cleaved to smaller products by the plasma membrane and quickly released into the surrounding medium.