Insulin at a unicellular eukaryote level


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The unicellular ciliate, Tetrahymena, has been the main model for studying the hormonal system of unicellular animals. Tetrahymena produce, store, secrete and take up insulin, the hormone being similar to that of mammals, both immunocytochemically and functionally. The plasma membrane and nuclear envelope of Tetrahymena have insulin receptors, which are structurally similar to the mammalian receptor, as it their binding capacity. The cell has also second messengers and signal pathways for insulin. Insulin influences the synthesis of other hormones. The first short encounter between the cell and insulin provokes the hormonal imprinting that alters the function of the cells and is transmitted to the progeny, and can persist for over 1,000 generations, in hormone binding, hormone content, phagocytosis, cell growth and movement. Insulin has a survival function in Tetrahymena and during stress insulin production and binding are elevated. Other protozoa also react to insulin, and the evolutionary aspects are discussed in this review since it is still not appreciated that the hormones are of great antiquity in the animal kingdom.