The role of insulin receptors and IGF-I receptors in cancer and other diseases

Arch Physiol Biochem. 2008 Feb;114(1):23-37. doi: 10.1080/13813450801969715.


There is evidence, both in vitro and in vivo, that receptor tyrosine kinases play a key role in the formation and progression of human cancer. In particular, the insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-IR), a tyrosine kinase receptor for IGF-I and IGF-II, has been well documented in cell culture, animal studies, and humans to play a role in malignant transformation, progression, protection from apoptosis, and metastasis. In addition, the hormone insulin (which is very closely related to the IGFs) and its tyrosine kinase receptor (the IR, which is very closely related to the IGR-IR) have been documented both in vitro and in vivo to play a key role in cancer biology. Indeed, several epidemiological studies have shown that insulin resistance status, characterized by hyperinsulinaemia, is associated with an increased risk for a number of malignancies, including carcinomas of the breast, prostate, colon and kidney. Recent data have elucidated some molecular mechanisms by which IR is involved in cancer. IR is over-expressed in several human malignancies. Interestingly, one of the two IR isoform (IR-A) is especially over-expressed in cancer. IR-A is the IR foetal isoform and has the peculiar characteristic to bind not only insulin but also IGF-II. In addition, the IR contributes to formation of hybrid receptors with the IGF-IR (HR). By binding to hybrid receptors, insulin may stimulate specific IGF-IR signalling pathways. Over-expression of IR-A is, therefore, a major mechanism of IGF system over-activation in cancer. In this respect, IR-A isoform and hybrid receptors should be regarded as potential molecular targets, in addition to IGF-IR, for novel anti-cancer therapy. These findings may have important implications for both the prevention and treatment of common human malignancies. They underline the concept that hyperinsulinaemia, associated with insulin resistance and obesity, should be treated by changes in life style and/or pharmacological approaches to avoid an increased risk for cancer. Moreover, native insulin and insulin analogue administration should be carefully evaluated in terms of the possible increase in cancer risk.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Somatomedins / metabolism


  • Protein Isoforms
  • Somatomedins
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1
  • Receptor, Insulin