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1.  Novel Covalently Linked Insulin Dimer Engineered to Investigate the Function of Insulin Dimerization 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e30882.
An ingenious system evolved to facilitate insulin binding to the insulin receptor as a monomer and at the same time ensure sufficient stability of insulin during storage. Insulin dimer is the cornerstone of this system. Insulin dimer is relatively weak, which ensures dissociation into monomers in the circulation, and it is stabilized by hexamer formation in the presence of zinc ions during storage in the pancreatic β-cell. Due to the transient nature of insulin dimer, direct investigation of this important form is inherently difficult. To address the relationship between insulin oligomerization and insulin stability and function, we engineered a covalently linked insulin dimer in which two monomers were linked by a disulfide bond. The structure of this covalent dimer was identical to the self-association dimer of human insulin. Importantly, this covalent dimer was capable of further oligomerization to form the structural equivalent of the classical hexamer. The covalently linked dimer neither bound to the insulin receptor, nor induced a metabolic response in vitro. However, it was extremely thermodynamically stable and did not form amyloid fibrils when subjected to mechanical stress, underlining the importance of oligomerization for insulin stability.
PMCID: PMC3281904  PMID: 22363506
2.  Engineering of Insulin Receptor Isoform-Selective Insulin Analogues 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20288.
The insulin receptor (IR) exists in two isoforms, A and B, and the isoform expression pattern is tissue-specific. The C-terminus of the insulin B chain is important for receptor binding and has been shown to contact the IR just adjacent to the region where the A and B isoforms differ. The aim of this study was to investigate the importance of the C-terminus of the B chain in IR isoform binding in order to explore the possibility of engineering tissue-specific/liver-specific insulin analogues.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Insulin analogue libraries were constructed by total amino acid scanning mutagenesis. The relative binding affinities for the A and B isoform of the IR were determined by competition assays using scintillation proximity assay technology. Structural information was obtained by X-ray crystallography. Introduction of B25A or B25N mutations resulted in analogues with a 2-fold preference for the B compared to the A isoform, whereas the opposite was observed with a B25Y substitution. An acidic amino acid residue at position B27 caused an additional 2-fold selective increase in affinity for the receptor B isoform for analogues bearing a B25N mutation. Furthermore, the combination of B25H with either B27D or B27E also resulted in B isoform-preferential analogues (2-fold preference) even though the corresponding single mutation analogues displayed no differences in relative isoform binding affinity.
We have discovered a new class of IR isoform-selective insulin analogues with 2–4-fold differences in relative binding affinities for either the A or the B isoform of the IR compared to human insulin. Our results demonstrate that a mutation at position B25 alone or in combination with a mutation at position B27 in the insulin molecule confers IR isoform selectivity. Isoform-preferential analogues may provide new opportunities for developing insulin analogues with improved clinical benefits.
PMCID: PMC3098868  PMID: 21625452
3.  Crystallographic characterization of two novel crystal forms of human insulin induced by chaotropic agents and a shift in pH 
Insulin is a therapeutic protein that is widely used for the treatment of diabetes. Its biological function was discovered more than 80 years ago and it has since then been characterized extensively. Crystallization of the insulin molecule has always been a key activity since the protein is often administered by subcutaneous injections of crystalline insulin formulations. Over the years, insulin has been crystallized and characterized in a number of crystal systems.
Interestingly, we have now discovered two new crystal forms of human insulin. The crystals were obtained when the two chaotropic agents, urea and thiocyanate were present in the crystallization experiments, and their structures were determined by X-ray crystallography. The crystals belong to the orthorhombic and monoclinic crystal systems, with space groups C2221 and C2 respectively. The orthorhombic crystals were obtained at pH 6.5 and contained three insulin hexamers in R6 conformation in the asymmetric unit whilst the monoclinic C2 crystals were obtained at pH 7.0 and contained one R6 hexamer in the asymmetric unit. Common for the two new crystals is a hexamer-hexamer interaction that has not been found in any of the previous crystal forms of insulin. The contacts involve a tight glutamate-glutamate interaction with a distance of 2.3 Å between groups. The short distance suggests a low barrier hydrogen bond. In addition, two tyrosine-tyrosine interactions occupying a known phenol binding pocket contribute to the stabilization of the contacts. Within the crystals, distinct binding sites for urea were found, adding further to the discussion on the role of urea in protein denaturation.
The change in space group from C2221 to C2 was primarily caused by an increase in pH. The fewer number of hexamer-hexamer interactions comprising the short hydrogen bond in the C2 space group suggest that pH is the driving force. In addition, the distance between the two glutamates increases from 2.32 Å in the C2221 crystals to 2.4 Å in the C2 crystals. However, in both cases the low barrier hydrogen bond and the tyrosine-tyrosine interaction should contribute to the stability of the crystals which is crucial when used in pharmaceutical formulations.
PMCID: PMC2241603  PMID: 18093308

Results 1-3 (3)