The metabolic actions of porcine insulin and biosynthetic human proinsulin on fatty acid and glucose metabolism were studied in rat hepatocytes cultured in monolayer for 24 h. Our aim was to establish whether proinsulin action in the liver is similar to insulin action and whether the relative potencies of the two hormones are the same for different metabolic processes. Proinsulin and insulin exerted a similar maximal inhibitory effect on ketone body formation from palmitate and on gluconeogenesis from pyruvate. The half-maximal effective concentration of proinsulin was 11–13 times that of insulin. The antiketogenic effects of insulin and proinsulin were associated with an increased glycerol 3-phosphate content and a decreased affinity of carnitine palmitoyltransferase for its substrate palmitoyl-CoA. When the basal rate of ketogenesis was increased with isobutyl methylxanthine, the half-maximal effective concentrations of both proinsulin and insulin were decreased, but the relative potency of the two hormones was unchanged. Proinsulin and insulin exerted similar maximal stimulatory effects on glycogen synthesis and on the activities of pyruvate kinase, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase, phosphogluconate dehydrogenase, and malic enzyme. The half-maximal effective concentration of proinsulin was 10–30 times that of insulin. These findings are consistent with receptor binding studies on liver membranes that suggest that proinsulin interacts with insulin-specific and not proinsulin-specific receptors. Our findings also suggest that proinsulin action does not differ from insulin action at a postreceptor site.

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