A major complication of diabetes mellitus is retinopathy, which is characterized by increased neovascularization and neuronal degeneration in the retina. The biochemical processes underlying these changes are largely unknown. To better understand the role(s) of insulin or its lack and the resultant hyperglycemia in the etiology of these events, peripheral and neuronal (having 125 kDa and 115 kDa alpha subunits, respectively) insulin receptor subtype levels in the retinas of Streptozocin-induced diabetic rats were quantified. Immunoblot analysis of wheat germ agglutinin-agarose purified retinal membrane proteins revealed that retinas from diabetic rats expressed higher insulin receptor levels than retinas from control rats. This increase reflected a doubling of neuronal and a ∼20% decrease in peripheral insulin receptor subtypes, respectively. Insulin-treated diabetic rats had neuronal receptor levels equal to control values, at the same time having a further reduced number of peripheral insulin receptors relative to controls. Affinity labeling analysis of WGA-purified retinal membrane proteins indicated a 1.5-fold increase in neuronal and a 9% decrease in peripheral receptor subtypes, corroborating the immunoblot analysis. Neuronal insulin receptors in WGA-purified cortical synaptosomal membranes also were increased in diabetic rats, with insulin treatment reducing this effect. The up-regulated receptors retained their ability to undergo insulin-dependent autophosphorylation and, as such, did not appear functionally impaired. These data suggest that the expression of neuronal insulin receptors in retina and brain and peripheral insulin receptors in the retina of diabetic rats is sensitive to levels of insulin/glucose in peripheral circulation.

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