By scanning and transmission electron microscopy we have shown that insulin rapidly reversed changes in surface membrane conformation and polysome profile induced by the transfer of actively growing Balb/c 3T3 fibroblasts from a serum-containing to a serum-free medium. Morphometric analysis of polysome profiles revealed a 94% aggregation of total f ribosomes during logarithmic growth. This figure fell to 78% after 18 h of serum starvation. The number of f ribosomes per unit area of cytoplasm also fell. 1 h of insulin treatment restored aggregation to 92% and increased the number of f ribosomes per unit area of cytoplasm by 22%.

Scanning electron microscopy of logarithmically growing cells revealed an abundance of surface microvilli, whereas serum starvation promoted a smooth surface with few microvilli. After 1 h of insulin treatment, microvilli reappeared with a distribution and subcellular organization characteristic of exponential growth.

This study shows the combined and rapid effect of insulin on the regulation of polysome formation and the promotion of a specific surface membrane conformation in cultured cells. The observations are consistent with the knowledge that insulin, acting on the surface membrane, can influence such parameters as membrane transport, and the rates of protein and RNA synthesis.

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