The insulin-receptor cycle was investigated in cultured foetal rat hepatocytes by determining the variations in insulin-binding sites at the cell surface after short exposure to the hormone. Binding of 125I-insulin was measured at 4 degrees C after dissociation of prebound native insulin. Two protocols were used: exchange binding assay and binding after acid treatment; both gave the same results. Cell-surface 125I-insulin-receptor binding decreased sharply (by 40%) during the first 5 min of 10 nM-insulin exposure (t1/2 = 2 min) and remained practically constant thereafter; subsequent removal of the hormone restored the initial binding within 10 min. This fall-rise sequence corresponded to variations in the number of insulin receptors at the cell surface, with no detectable change in receptor affinity. The reversible translocation of insulin receptors from the cell surface to a compartment not accessible to insulin at 4 degrees C was hormone-concentration- and temperature-dependent. SDS/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis after cross-linking of bound 125I-insulin to cell-surface proteins with disuccinimidyl suberate showed that these variations were not associated with changes in Mr of binding components, in particular for the major labelled band of Mr 130,000. The insulin-receptor cycle could be repeated after intermittent exposure to insulin. Continuous or intermittent exposure to the hormone gave a similar glycogenic response, contrary to the partial effect of a unique short (5-20 min) exposure. A relationship could be established between the repetitive character of the rapid insulin-receptor cycle and the maximal expression of the biological effect in cultured foetal hepatocytes.

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