Insulin regulates the expression of genes involved in a variety of metabolic processes. In chick-embryo hepatocytes in culture, insulin amplifies the tri-iodothyronine (T3)-induced enzyme activity, and the level and rate of transcription of mRNA for both fatty acid synthase (FAS) and malic enzyme (ME). Insulin alone, however, has little or no effect on the expression of these genes. In chick-embryo hepatocytes, the mechanism by which insulin regulates the expression of these or other genes is not known. Several recent studies have compared the effects of zinc, vanadate and selenate on insulin-sensitive processes in an attempt to probe the mechanism of insulin action. Because zinc, vanadate and selenate mimic the effects of insulin on several processes, they have been termed insulin-mimetics. We have studied the effect of zinc, vanadate and selenate on the T3-induced expression of both FAS and ME. Like insulin, these agents had little or no effect on the basal activities for FAS and ME in chick-embryo hepatocytes in culture for 48 h. Unlike insulin, however, zinc, vanadate and selenate inhibited the T3-induced activities and mRNA levels of both FAS and ME. Maximal inhibition was achieved at concentrations of 50 microM zinc or vanadate, or 20 microM selenate. Zinc and vanadate also inhibited the T3-induced transcription of the FAS and ME genes. Although the mechanism of this inhibition is unknown, our results indicate that it is not mediated through inhibition of binding of T3 to its nuclear receptor nor through a general toxic effect. Thus zinc, vanadate and selenate are not insulin-mimetics under all conditions, and their effects on other insulin-sensitive processes may be fortuitous and unrelated to actions or components of the insulin signalling pathway.
- © 1994 The Biochemical Society, London