Immunoreactive insulin was shown to exist as a surface molecule in the plasma membrane of dispersed rat pancreatic islet cells. The intact cells were stained by immunofluorescence with a guinea pig antisera specific for insulin. The hormone on the cell surface could not be accounted for by insulin bound to specific receptors or nonspecifically absorbed to cells. Thus, surface insulin was demonstrated to be a specific membrane antigen for islet cells. Furthermore, the proportion of islet cells with insulin on the cell surface was directly correlated with insulin secretion in several different settings. This correspondence was demonstrated by varying the glucose concentration in the medium, by withholding Ca2+, which inhibits secretion, and by adding theophylline, which potentiates secretion. Consequently, these results suggested that insulin as a membrane protein was a marker for cells that actively secreted the hormone and may have been derived in the fusion process of secretory granules with the plasma membrane.

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