The insulin receptor gene encodes an evolutionarily conserved signaling protein with a wide spectrum of functions in metazoan development. The insulin signaling pathway plays key roles in processes such as metabolic regulation, growth control, and neuronal function. Misregulation of the pathway features in diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, making it an important target for clinical interventions. While much attention has been focused on differential pathway activation through ligand availability, sensitization of overall signaling may also be mediated by differential expression of the insulin receptor itself. Although first characterized as a “housekeeping” gene with stable expression, comparative studies have shown that expression levels of the human INSR mRNA differ by tissue and in response to environmental signals. Our recent analysis of the transcriptional controls affecting expression of the Drosophila insulin receptor gene indicates that a remarkable amount of DNA is dedicated to encoding sophisticated feedback and feed forward signals. The human INSR gene is likely to contain a similar level of transcriptional complexity; here, we summarize over three decades of molecular biology and genetic research that points to a still incompletely understood regulatory control system. Further elucidation of transcriptional controls of INSR will provide the basis for understanding human genetic variation that underlies population-level physiological differences and disease.
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