Proinsulin and C-peptide: a review

Metabolism. 1977 May;26(5):547-87. doi: 10.1016/0026-0495(77)90099-3.


The recent work on proinsulin and C-peptide has been reviewed with major emphasis on the most significant findings since 1972. Proinsulin has now been established as the biosynthetic precursor of insulin in all species examined, including man, with a preproinsulin as a possible precursor of the prohormone. The conversion of proinsulin which appears to occur exclusively in the pancreas leads to equimolar production of insulin and C-peptide. Although proinsulin has a direct biologic effect which is one-tenth as much as that of insulin, C-peptide has no biologic activity on homologous or heterologous tissue and no ability to modify the action of insulin and/or proinsulin. Previous work on proinsulin immunoassay suggested that this prohormone, but not C-peptide, cross-reacts with insulin antiserum. On the other hand, in the C-peptide immunoassay, proinsulin but not insulin cross-reacts with the antiserum. Up to this time, therefore, it has not been possible to immunoassay human proinsulin or C-peptide specifically. The very recent work from the laboratory of Heding, however, has brought about major advances in this area in which human C-peptide and proinsulin can be separated in the plasma by the use of Sepharose particles. With this recent major advancement, it is now possible to measure human C-peptide specifically. This measurement has been shown to be a useful tool for the assessment of beta-cell function in diabetic patients treated with insulin and in insulinoma patients in whom endogenous C-peptide secretion is not suppressed with exogenous insulin-induced hypoglycemia. With the use of a specific enzyme which degrades insulin but not proinsulin, postprandial plasma proinsulin values have been measured in a large number of subjects under a variety of physiologic and pathologic conditions. These results, which are comparable to those obtained by the more laborious column chromatography, could be summarized as follows: (1) proinsulin values in lean, young normal subjects do not vary greatly in response to insulin secretagogues; (2) proinsulin secretion in response to glucose results in a greater percentage of proinsulin in the older age group than in the younger group; (3) in lean adult and juvenile diabetic patients, the percentage of proinsulin is not excessive, whereas obese diabetics and pregnant diabetics appear to secrete relatively greater proinsulin than their diabetic controls; and (4) whereas most hyperinsulinemic states (Cusing's syndrome, adult-onset diabetics, acromegaly, and glucocorticoid therapy) are not associated with an increase in percentage of proinsulin, hyperinsulinemia of insulinoma, selected cases of functional hypoglycemia, and genetic hyperproinsulinemia are associated with a greater percentage of proinsulin. Identification of a possible new proinsulin intermediate(s) in these conditions deserves further investigation...

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • C-Peptide / metabolism*
  • Cattle
  • Cross Reactions
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Dogs
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Haplorhini
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Hyperinsulinism / metabolism
  • Insulin / deficiency
  • Insulin / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Pancreas / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Proinsulin / biosynthesis
  • Proinsulin / immunology
  • Proinsulin / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Swine
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Antibodies
  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Peptides
  • Proinsulin