The role of prohormone convertases in insulin biosynthesis: evidence for inherited defects in their action in man and experimental animals

Diabetes Metab. 1996 Apr;22(2):94-104.


The hormone insulin remains the cornerstone of diabetic therapy since it is required for almost all cases of Type 1 and many cases of Type 2 diabetes. Since the discovery of insulin in 1921, much has been learned about its chemistry, structure and action as well as its production in the beta cell. Insulin is formed through a series of precursors, beginning with preproinsulin, the protein encoded in the insulin gene. These precursors direct the prohormone into the secretory pathway and ultimately into the secretory granules where it is converted into insulin and C-peptide. These products are stored and secreted together in a highly regulated manner in response to glucose and other stimuli. This review focuses on the recently discovered prohormone convertases, PC2 and PC3 (PC1), the enzymes responsible for the endoproteolytic processing of proinsulin to insulin and C-peptide in the beta cell as well as for the selective processing of proglucagon to glucagon in the alpha cell or GLP1 in intestinal L-cells. PC2 and PC3 are calcium-dependent serine proteases related to the bacterial enzyme subtilisin. They cleave selectively at Lys-Arg or Arg-Arg sites in precursors, generating products with C-terminal basic residues that are then removed by carboxypeptidase E, an exopeptidase. All 3 enzymes are expressed mainly in secretory granules of neuroendocrine cells throughout the body and in the brain. Inherited defects affecting the prohormone-processing enzymes have recently been found in association with unusual syndromes of obesity and other metabolic disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • C-Peptide / biosynthesis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / genetics*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Glucagon / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Insulin / biosynthesis*
  • Insulin / therapeutic use
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Organ Specificity
  • Proinsulin / metabolism
  • Proprotein Convertase 2
  • Proprotein Convertases
  • Subtilisins / metabolism*


  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Glucagon
  • Proinsulin
  • Proprotein Convertases
  • Subtilisins
  • Proprotein Convertase 2
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases