Functions of insulin and insulin receptor signaling in retina: possible implications for diabetic retinopathy

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2003 Jul;22(4):545-62. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(03)00035-1.


Insulin action regulates the metabolic functions of the classically insulin-responsive tissues: liver, adipose, and skeletal muscle. Evidence also suggests that insulin acts on neural tissue and can modulate neural metabolism, synapse activity, and feeding behaviors. Insulin receptors are expressed on both the vasculature and neurons of the retina, but their functions are not completely defined. Insulin action stimulates neuronal development, differentiation, growth, and survival, rather than stimulating nutrient metabolism, e.g., glucose uptake as in skeletal muscle. Insulin receptors from retinal neurons and blood vessels share many similar properties with insulin receptors from other peripheral tissues, and retinal neurons express numerous proteins that are attributed to the insulin signaling cascade as in other tissues. However, undefined neuron-specific signals downstream of the insulin receptor are likely to also exist. This review compares retinal insulin action to that of peripheral tissues, and demonstrates that the retina is an insulin-sensitive tissue. The review also addresses the hypothesis that dysfunctional insulin receptor signaling in the retina contributes to cell dysfunction and death in retinal diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Receptor, Insulin / physiology*
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Insulin
  • Receptor, Insulin