The physiologic function of insulin in early embryonic life is unknown. We have shown that insulin is present in unfertilized eggs and in chick embryos at 2–3 days of development, even before the emergence of the endocrine pancreas. To define insulin's role, we exposed 2-day-old chick embryos to anti-insulin antibodies and followed their development up to day 5. Antibodytreated embryos had a higher rate of growth retardation and death by days 3–5 of embryogenesis, compared with controls. Among the survivors, biochemical maturation was delayed at days 4 and 5; weight, protein, total creatine kinase activity, and creatine kinase-MB were decreased in antibody-treated embryos.
By contrast, insulin (50 ng/embryo) administered to 2-day-old embryos yielded nearly symmetrical stimulatory results. These findings suggest that endogenous insulin plays a probable physiologic role regulating growth and differentiation in early embryos. In addition, the findings provide some clues to a possible function for insulin produced outside the organism's own beta cells.