Partially purified liver insulin receptors from full-term pregnant rats show decreased autophosphorylation rates if compared with receptors from virgins. We studied the molecular mechanism of this phenomenon, looking at possible structural and functional changes of several domains. The ATP-binding domain seems to be unaltered in receptors from pregnant rats since Km for ATP was similar to that observed in virgins. In contrast, the Vmax. is decreased some 45%, suggesting changes in the kinase domain. Truncation of a fragment of 10 kDa from the C-terminal tail does not normalize the kinase activity in receptors from pregnant rats, suggesting that this domain is not involved in the inhibitory regulation. Treatment with alkaline phosphatase increases the [32P]Pi incorporation into receptors from pregnant rats; however, the autophosphorylation remains lower than that observed in virgin rats. Tryptic phosphopeptide maps of phosphorylated receptors show that the same phosphopeptides are present in receptors from virgin and pregnant rats. However, the progression through the autoactivation cascade in the kinase domain is impaired in receptors from pregnant rats. Differences in the cleavage by trypsin at the two alternative sites in the kinase domain were observed, indicating possible structural changes in receptors from pregnant rats that could be related to the impairment of the autoactivation cascade. Integrity of the alpha- and beta-subunits, as well as differential expression of the two receptor isotypes, were shown to be unaltered. We conclude that (1) the decreased autophosphorylation rate of the liver insulin receptor from pregnant rats is associated with the impairment of its autoactivation cascade, probably as a consequence of the basal Ser/Thr phosphorylation; and (2) the inhibition of the autoactivation cascade does not account for the overall inhibition of autophosphorylation observed in receptors from pregnant rats.

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