The role of insulin to regulate protein turnover in fetal liver was investigated using primary cultures of fetal-rat hepatocytes. The basal rate of protein degradation (in the presence of insulin and amino acids) was the same in cultured fetal and adult hepatocytes (2.48 +/- 0.16 versus 2.46 +/- 0.06% of total protein degraded/h respectively). Incubation of cells in an unsupplemented media (without insulin or amino acids) resulted in a deprivation-induced increase in degradation in cells from both groups (P less than 0.05). Rates of proteolysis could be returned to their respective basal values by the addition of amino acids at 5 times their normal plasma concentrations. In adult cells, addition of insulin alone significantly inhibited protein degradation (P less than 0.05), whereas, in contrast, insulin was without effect on protein degradation in fetal hepatocytes. Both fetal and adults cells responded to dibutyryl cyclic AMP with an increase in protein degradation above that seen in the no-additions group. Results of experiments in which the effect of inhibitors of protein degradation (chloroquine, NH4Cl, amino acids and dinitrophenol) were tested suggested that lysosomes were responsible for 20-30% of total protein degradation in fetal hepatocytes. Impaired insulin processing in fetal hepatocytes was examined as a possible cause of the insulin-resistance in these cells. As determined by h.p.l.c. analysis, the same pattern of initial degradation products of insulin was found in fetal hepatocytes as had previously been found in adult hepatocytes. Incubation of cells with various doses of chloroquine resulted in an increase in cell-associated 125I-insulin and a decrease in insulin degradation in both fetal and adult cells. At the highest dose of chloroquine tested (500 microM), a slightly greater increase in insulin binding and a decrease in insulin degradation were observed in fetal cells as compared with adult cells. Rates of insulin internalization were also compared between fetal and adult cells. A 30% slower rate of insulin internalization was observed in fetal cells, as compared with adult cells. It was concluded that the absence of an effect of insulin on protein degradation in fetal hepatocytes is not the result of a major difference in insulin internalization and processing between fetal and adult hepatocytes.

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