Insulin structure and function

Biopolymers. 2007;88(5):687-713. doi: 10.1002/bip.20734.


Throughout much of the last century insulin served a central role in the advancement of peptide chemistry, pharmacology, cell signaling and structural biology. These discoveries have provided a steadily improved quantity and quality of life for those afflicted with diabetes. The collective work serves as a foundation for the development of insulin analogs and mimetics capable of providing more tailored therapy. Advancements in patient care have been paced by breakthroughs in core technologies, such as semisynthesis, high performance chromatography, rDNA-biosynthesis and formulation sciences. How the structural and conformational dynamics of this endocrine hormone elicit its biological response remains a vigorous area of study. Numerous insulin analogs have served to coordinate structural biology and biochemical signaling to provide a first level understanding of insulin action. The introduction of broad chemical diversity to the study of insulin has been limited by the inefficiency in total chemical synthesis, and the inherent limitations in rDNA-biosynthesis and semisynthetic approaches. The goals of continued investigation remain the delivery of insulin therapy where glycemic control is more precise and hypoglycemic liability is minimized. Additional objectives for medicinal chemists are the identification of superagonists and insulins more suitable for non-injectable delivery. The historical advancements in the synthesis of insulin analogs by multiple methods is reviewed with the specific structural elements of critical importance being highlighted. The functional refinement of this hormone as directed to improved patient care with insulin analogs of more precise pharmacology is reported.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insulin / chemistry*
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Insulin
  • Receptor, Insulin