A brief perspective on insulin production

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2009 Nov;11 Suppl 4:189-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1326.2009.01106.x.


The preeminent role of the beta cell is to manufacture, store and release insulin. The mature insulin molecule is composed of two polypeptide chains designated as A and B that are joined by two pairs of disulfide bonds with an additional intramolecular disulfide bond in the A chain. However, the two chains of the insulin molecule are not synthesized as separate polypeptide chains but rather are generated by specific proteolytic processing of a larger precursor, proinsulin. This discovery in 1967 and the concept of prohormones changed our view of the biosynthesis of hormones and neuropeptides. It allowed studies of the regulation of insulin biosynthesis that highlighted the key role of glucose. In addition, the C-peptide, the polypeptide that joins the A and B chains in proinsulin and is stored with insulin in the secretory granules and secreted in equimolar amounts, allowed studies of pancreatic beta cell function in vivo including in patients with diabetes. Subsequent studies have identified the specific proteases, prohormone convertases 1/3 and 2 and carboxypeptidase E, that are involved in the conversion of proinsulin to proinsulin intermediates and then to insulin. Disorders of (pro)insulin biosynthesis continue to illuminate important aspects of this pathway, revealing important connections to diabetes pathogenesis. Recent studies of patients with insulin gene mutations that cause permanent neonatal diabetes have identified key residues affecting the folding and structural organization of the preproinsulin molecule and its subsequent processing. These findings have renewed interest in the key role of endoplasmic reticulum function in insulin biosynthesis and the maintainance of normal beta cell health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • C-Peptide / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / biosynthesis*
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Proinsulin / biosynthesis
  • Proinsulin / genetics


  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Proinsulin