PerspectiveCell Biology

Insulin Finds Its Niche

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Science  17 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6134, pp. 817-818
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238525

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Summary

Coordination of organ growth and metabolism in response to changing environmental conditions is essential for physiological homeostasis. A central metabolic control mechanism in multicellular organisms is insulin signaling. Under conditions of elevated blood sugar, insulin promotes the storage of glucose in tissues such as muscle, fat, and liver. Classically, the role of insulin signaling is systemic. In mammals, insulin is produced by pancreatic beta cells and released into the bloodstream in response to increased concentrations of blood glucose, inducing global changes in growth and metabolism. Intriguingly, recent studies have demonstrated that insulin signaling can also occur locally, over a short range. Why have local insulin signaling? Local signals allow organ-specific, rather than organismal responses to changing environmental conditions (see the figure). This allows the modulation of the growth and development of individual tissues to be separately controlled, and raises the question of whether this phenomenon could be exploited for therapeutic strategies. Many of these recent findings have arisen from research in invertebrates; however, there are striking parallels in mammals.