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Phosphoinositolglycan molecules isolated from insulin-sensitive mammalian tissues have been demonstrated in numerous in vitro studies to exert partial insulin-mimetic activity on glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin-sensitive cells. However, their ill-defined structures, heterogeneous nature, and limited availability have prohibited the analysis of the underlying molecular mechanism. Phosphoinositolglycan-peptide (PIG-P) of defined and homogeneous structure prepared in large scale from the core glycan of a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol-anchored membrane protein from Saccharomyces cerevisiae has recently been shown to stimulate glucose transport as well as a number of glucose-metabolizing enzymes and pathways to up to 90% (at 2 to 10 microns) of the maximal insulin effect in isolated rat adipocytes, cardiomyocytes, and diaphragms (G. MÃ¼ller et al., 1997, Endocrinology 138: 3459-3476). Consequently, we used this PIG-P for the present study in which we compare its intracellular signaling with that of insulin. The activation of glucose transport by both PIG-P and insulin in isolated rat adipocytes and diaphragms was found to require stimulation of phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase but to be independent of functional p70S6kinase and mitogen-activated protein kinase. The increase in glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase activity in rat adipocytes in response to PIG-P and insulin was dependent on both PI 3-kinase and p70S6kinase. This suggest that the signaling pathways for PIG-P and insulin to glucose transport and metabolism converage at the level of PI 3-kinase. A component of the PIG-P signaling pathway located up-stream of PI 3-kinase was identified by desensitization of isolated rat adipocytes for PIG-P action by combined treatment with trypsin and NaCl under conditions that preserved cell viability and the insulin-mimetic activity of sodium vanadate but completely blunted the insulin response. Incubation of the cells with either trypsin or NaCl alone was ineffective. The desensitized adipocytes were reconstituted for stimulation of lipogenesis by PIG-P by addition of the concentrated trypsin/salt extract. The reconstituted adipocytes exhibited 65-75% of the maximal PIG-P response and similar EC50 values for PIG-P (2 to 5 microns) compared with control cells. A proteinaceous N-ethylmaleimide (NEM)-sensitive component contained in the trypsin/salt extract was demonstrated to bind in a functional manner to the adipocyte plasma membrane of desensitized adipocytes via bipolar interactions. An excess of trypsin/salt extract inhibited PIG-P action in untreated adipocytes in a competitive fashion compatible with a receptor function for PIG-P of this protein. The presence of the putative PIG-P receptor protein in detergent-insoluble complexes prepared from isolated rat adipocytes suggests that caveolae/detergent-insoluble complexes of the plasma membrane may play a role in insulin-mimetic signaling by PIG-P. Furthermore, treatment of isolated rat diaphragms and adipocytes with PIG-P as well as with other agents exerting partially insulin-mimetic activity, such as PI-specific phospholipase C (PLC) and the sulfonylurea glimepiride, triggered tyrosine phosphorylation of the caveolar marker protein caveolin, which was apparently correlated with stimulation of lipogenesis. Strikingly, in adipocytes subjected to combined trypsin/salt treatment, PIG-P, PI-specific PLC, and glimepiride failed completely to provoke insulin-mimetic effects. A working model is presented for a signaling pathway in insulin-sensitive cells used by PIG(-P) molecules which involves GPI structures, the trypsin/salt- and NEM-sensitive receptor protein for PIG-P, and additional proteins located in caveolae/detergent-insoluble complexes.