We studied internalization of 125I-labelled insulin in isolated rat hepatocytes. Using the acidification technique, we were able to dissociate the ligand from its cell-surface receptors, and thus to separate internalized from surface-bound insulin. Because during the first 5 min of incubation of 125I-labelled insulin with freshly isolated hepatocytes there is no loss of internalized label, the ratio of the amount of internalized ligand to the amount of cell-surface-bound ligand may serve as an index of insulin internalization. Within the first 10 min of insulin's interaction with hepatocytes, the plot of the above ratio as a function of time yields a straight line. The slope of this line is referred to as the endocytic rate constant (Ke) for insulin and denotes the probability with which the insulin-receptor complex is internalized in 1 min. At the insulin concentration of 0.295 ng/ml, the Ke is 0.049 min-1. It is independent of insulin concentration until the latter exceeds 1 ng/ml. At the insulin concentration of 3.2 ng/ml, the Ke accelerates to 0.131 min-1. With the Ke being the probability of insulin-receptor-complex internalization, 4.9% of occupied insulin receptors will be internalized in 1 min at an insulin concentration of 0.295 ng/ml, and 13.1% of occupied insulin receptors will be internalized in 1 min at 3.2 ng/ml. When the insulin concentration decreases from 3.2 to 0.3 ng/ml, the Ke decreases accordingly. The half-time of occupied receptor internalization is 15.4 min at the lower insulin concentration and 5.3 min at the higher insulin concentration.

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