Apoptotic mechanisms in proximal renal tubular epithelial cells (PTEC) are crucial in the pathogenesis of acute kidney injury. We investigated whether insulin alters anti-apoptotic signalling in human PTEC. Cells were deprived of insulin for 0, 24 or 48 h and then stimulated with insulin for 0 or 5 min. Apoptosis was induced by camptothecin incubation. Insulin receptor kinase (IR-kinase) activity, phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), IRS-1-associated PI3-kinase (p85), Ser 273 -phosphorylation of Akt and caspase-3 activity (C3-activity) were determined. Insulin stimulation increased the activity of IR-kinase, IRS-1 phosphorylation, p85 association with IRS-1 and Ser 273 -phosphorylation of Akt by at least 250%, respectively and decreased the C3-activity by 45% (p < 0.01, respectively). Deprivation of insulin for 24 and 48 h reduced basal and insulin-stimulated IR-kinase activity, IRS-1 phosphorylation, p85 association with IRS-1 and Ser 273 - phosphorylation of Akt by 30-40% and increased C3-activity by 15-20% (p < 0.01, respectively). Incubation with camptothecin increased C3-activity by 250-300% (p < 0.001). Subsequent insulin stimulation reversed the camptothecin induced increase of C3-activity. Our data indicate that apoptosis in PTEC is regulated by the insulin dependent PI3-kinase/Akt pathway. The enhancement of tubular-specific cell survival signals might represent a potential therapeutic tool for the protection of renal function in acute kidney injury.