Structural basis of insulin fibrillation

Sci Adv. 2023 Sep 15;9(37):eadi1057. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adi1057. Epub 2023 Sep 15.


Insulin is a hormone responsible for maintaining normal glucose levels by activating insulin receptor (IR) and is the primary treatment for diabetes. However, insulin is prone to unfolding and forming cross-β fibers. Fibrillation complicates insulin storage and therapeutic application. Molecular details of insulin fibrillation remain unclear, hindering efforts to prevent fibrillation process. Here, we characterized insulin fibrils using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), showing multiple forms that contain one or more of the protofilaments containing both the A and B chains of insulin linked by disulfide bonds. We solved the cryo-EM structure of one of the fibril forms composed of two protofilaments at 3.2-Å resolution, which reveals both the β sheet conformation of the protofilament and the packing interaction between them that underlie the fibrillation. On the basis of this structure, we designed several insulin mutants that display reduced fibrillation while maintaining native IR signaling activity. These designed insulin analogs may be developed into more effective therapeutics for type 1 diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Insulin* / chemistry
  • Insulin* / physiology
  • Protein Aggregates* / physiology


  • Insulin
  • Protein Aggregates