Background: Recent changes in nutrition and lifestyle have provoked an unprecedented increase in the prevalence of obesity and metabolic disorders. Recognition of the adverse effects on health has prompted intense efforts to understand the molecular determinants of insulin sensitivity and dysglycemia. In many respects, actions of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) mirror those of insulin in metabolic regulation. Unlike insulin, however, the bioactivity of IGFs is regulated by a family of seven high-affinity binding proteins (IGFBPs) which confer temporospatial modulation with implications for metabolic homeostasis. In addition, evidence is accumulating that IGF-independent actions of certain of the IGFBPs can directly modulate insulin sensitivity.
Scope of review: In this review, we discuss the experimental data indicating a critical role for IGF/IGFBP axis in metabolic regulation. We highlight key discoveries through which IGFBPs have emerged as biomarkers or putative therapeutic targets in obesity and diabetes.
Major conclusions: Growing evidence suggests that several components of the IGF-IGFBP system could be explored for therapeutic potential in metabolic disorders. Both IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 have been favorably linked with insulin sensitivity in humans and preclinical data implicate direct involvement in the molecular regulation of insulin signaling and adiposity respectively. Further studies are warranted to evaluate clinical translation of these findings.