Intracellular organization of insulin signaling and GLUT4 translocation

Robert T. Watson, Jeffrey E. Pessin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


Glucose is cleared from the bloodstream by a family of facilitative transporters (GLUTs), which catalyze the transport of glucose down its concentration gradient and into cells of target tissues, primarily striated muscle and adipose. Currently, there are five established functional facilitative glucose transporter isoforms (GLUT1-4 and GLUTX1), with GLUT5 being a fructose transporter. GLUT1 is ubiquitously expressed with particularly high levels in human erythrocytes and in the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the brain. GLUT3 is expressed primarily in neurons and, together, GLUT1 and GLUT3 allow glucose to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter neurons. GLUT2 is a low-affinity (high Km) glucose transporter present in liver, intestine, kidney, and pancreatic β cells. This transporter functions as part of the glucose sensor system in β cells and in the basolateral transport of intestinal epithelial cells that absorb glucose from the diet. A new facilitative glucose transporter protein, GLUTX1, has been identified and appears to be important in early blastocyst development. The GLUT4 isoform is the major insulin-responsive transporter that is predominantly restricted to striated muscle and adipose tissue. In contrast to the other GLUT isoforms, which are primarily localized to the cell surface membrane, GLUT4 transporter proteins are sequestered into specialized storage vesicles that remain within the cell's interior under basal conditions. As post-prandial glucose levels rise, the subsequent increase in circulating insulin activates intracellular signaling cascades that ultimately result in the translocation of the GLUT4 storage compartments to the plasma membrane. Importantly, this process is readily reversible such that when circulating insulin levels decline, GLUT4 transporters are removed from the plasma membrane by endocytosis and are recycled back to their intracellular storage compartments. Therefore, by establishing an internal membrane compartment as the default localization for the GLUT4 transporters, insulin-responsive tissues are poised to respond rapidly and efficiently to fluctuations in circulating insulin levels. Unfortunately, the complexity of these regulatory processes provides numerous potential targets that may be defective and eventually result in peripheral tissue insulin resistance and possibly diabetes. As such, understanding the molecular details of GLUT4 expression, GLUT4 vesicle compartment biogenesis, GLUT4 sequestration, vesicle trafficking, and fusion with the plasma membrane has become a major focus for many laboratories. This chapter will focus on recently elucidated insulin signal transduction pathways and GLUT4 vesicle trafficking components that are necessary for insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and GLUT4 translocation in adipoctyes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-193
Number of pages19
JournalRecent progress in hormone research
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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