The insulin-like growth factors-I and -II (IGFs) are involved in a wide array of cellular processes such as proliferation, prevention of apoptosis, and differentiation. Most of these effects are mediated by the IGF-I receptor, although at higher IGF concentrations the insulin receptor can also be activated. As the expression of both the IGFs and their receptors is widespread, IGFs are thought to have autocrine/paracrine modes of actions also, particularly during foetal life. The endocrine component of the IGF system is recognised to be important after birth, with IGF-I mediating many of the effects of growth hormone (GH), and linking anabolic processes to nutrient availability. Consideration of ligands and receptors, however, is insufficient to provide a complete understanding of the biology of IGF. This is because IGFs are found in binary complexes of 40-50 kDa with members of a family of IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs-1 to -6) in all biological fluids. In addition, in postnatal serum, most IGFs are sequestered into ternary complexes of 150 kDa consisting of one molecule each of IGF, IGFBP-3 or IGFBP-5, and acid-labile subunit (ALS). Despite evidence that ALS plays an important role in the biology of circulating IGFs, it has received only limited attention relative to the other components of the IGF system. This review provides an overview on the current knowledge of ALS protein and gene structure, organisation and regulation by hormones, and insights from novel animal models such as the ALS knockout mice.
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