The molecular mechanism of insulin action

Annu Rev Med. 1985;36:429-51. doi: 10.1146/


Insulin initiates its action by binding to a glycoprotein receptor on the surface of the cell. This receptor consists of an alpha-subunit, which binds the hormone, and a beta-subunit, which is an insulin-stimulated, tyrosine-specific protein kinase. Activation of this kinase is believed to generate a signal that eventually results in insulin's action on glucose, lipid, and protein metabolism. The growth-promoting effects of insulin appear to occur through activation of receptors for the family of related insulin-like growth factors. Both genetic and acquired abnormalities in the number of insulin receptors, the activity of the receptor kinase, and the various post-receptor steps in insulin action occur in disease states leading to tissue resistance to insulin action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acanthosis Nigricans / metabolism
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry
  • Humans
  • Insulin / pharmacology*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Peptides / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptor, Insulin / analysis
  • Receptor, Insulin / drug effects*
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / analysis
  • Receptors, Somatomedin
  • Somatomedins / pharmacology


  • Insulin
  • Peptides
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Somatomedin
  • Somatomedins
  • Protein Kinases
  • Receptor, Insulin