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BACKGROUND: Insulin receptor substrate proteins (IRS) mediate various effects of insulin, including regulation of glucose homeostasis, cell growth and survival. To understand the underlying mechanisms explaining the effects of the Src-related tyrosine kinase GTK on beta-cell proliferation and survival, insulin-signalling pathways involving IRS-1 and IRS-2 were studied in islet cells and RINm5F cells overexpressing wild-type and two different mutants of the SRC-related tyrosine kinase GTK. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Islets isolated from transgenic mice and RINm5F cells overexpressing wild-type and mutant GTK were analysed for IRS-1, IRS-2, SHB, AKT and ERK phosphorylation/activity by Western blot analysis. RESULTS: RINm5F cells expressing the kinase active mutant Y504F-GTK and islet cells from GTK(Y504F) -transgenic mice exhibited reduced insulin-induced tyrosine phosphorylation of IRS-1 and IRS-2. In RINm5F cells, the diminished IRS-phosphorylation was accompanied by a reduced insulin-stimulated activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), AKT and Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase, partly due to an increased basal activity. In addition, increased tyrosine phosphorylation of the SHB SH2 domain-adaptor protein and its association with IRS-2, IRS-1 and focal adhesion kinase was observed in these cells. RINm5F cells overexpressing wild-type GTK also exhibited reduced activation of IRS-2, PI3K and AKT, whereas cells expressing a GTK mutant with lower kinase activity (GTK(Y394F)) exhibited insignificantly altered responses to insulin compared to the mock transfected cells. Moreover, GTK was shown to associate with and phosphorylate SHB in transiently transfected COS-7 cells, indicating that SHB is a specific substrate for GTK. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that GTK signals via SHB to modulate insulin-stimulated pathways in beta cells and this may explain previous results showing an increased beta-cell mass in GTK-transgenic mice.