The IR (insulin receptor) and IGFR (type I insulin-like growth factor receptor) are found as homodimers, but the respective pro-receptors can also heterodimerize to form insulin–IGF hybrid receptors. There are conflicting data on the ligand affinity of hybrids, and especially on the influence of different IR isoforms. To investigate further the contribution of individual ligand binding epitopes to affinity and specificity in the IR/IGFR family, we generated hybrids incorporating both IR isoforms (A and B) and IR/IGFR domain-swap chimaeras, by ectopic co-expression of receptor constructs in Chinese hamster ovary cells, and studied ligand binding using both radioligand competition and bioluminescence resonance energy transfer assays. We found that IR-A–IGFR and IR-B–IGFR hybrids bound insulin with similar relatively low affinity, which was intermediate between that of homodimeric IR and homodimeric IGFR. However, both IR-A–IGFR and IR-B–IGFR hybrids bound IGF-I and IGF-II with high affinity, at a level comparable with homodimeric IGFR. Incorporation of a significant fraction of either IR-A or IR-B into hybrids resulted in abrogation of insulin- but not IGF-I-stimulated autophosphorylation. We conclude that the sequence of 12 amino acids encoded by exon 11 of the IR gene has little or no effect on ligand binding and activation of IR–IGFR hybrids, and that hybrid receptors bind IGFs but not insulin at physiological concentrations regardless of the IR isoform they contained. To reconstitute high affinity insulin binding within a hybrid receptor, chimaeras in which the IGFR L1 or L2 domains had been replaced by equivalent IR domains were co-expressed with full-length IR-A or IR-B. In the context of an IR-A–IGFR hybrid, replacement of IR residues 325–524 (containing the L2 domain and part of the first fibronectin domain) with the corresponding IGFR sequence increased the affinity for insulin by 20-fold. We conclude that the L2 and/or first fibronectin domains of IR contribute in trans with the L1 domain to create a high affinity insulin-binding site within a dimeric receptor.

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