Evidence from a number of laboratories has suggested that the mechanism of insulin action involves the release of an intracellular mediator polypeptide from the plasma membrane. It has been proposed that activation of a protease with trypsin-like specificity is involved in release of the putative mediator. In an effort to assess the potential role of such a protease in intact cells, the present study tested the effects of a variety of low-mol-wt protease inhibitors on insulin's metabolic action in isolated rat epididymal fat cells. The protease inhibitors studied included paminobenzamidine, benzamidine, phenylguanidine, diisopropylflubrophosphate, leupeptin, and the competitive substrate N-α-tosyl-L-arginine methylester. Leupeptin was devoid of activity. Most of the other inhibitors used were able to interfere with insulin-stimulated metabolism if used in sufficiently high concentrations, concentrations considerably higher than those required for inhibition of known proteases or inhibition of intracellular processes in a previously described system which involves a trypsin-like enzyme. Moreover, they displayed various activities unrelated to protease inhibition that could explain their effects on insulin action better than protease inhibition. While none of the data on individual inhibitors were by themselves convincing enough to either confirm or reject the hypothesis concerning the involvement of a protease with trypsin-like specificity in insulin action, taken together our results do weaken the hypothesis considerably and in particular render the involvement of an extracellular trypsin-like enzyme improbable.

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