An invariant residue, valine B12, is part of the insulin B-chain central alpha-helix (B9-B19), and its aliphatic side chain lies at the surface of the hydrophobic core of the insulin monomer in close contact with the neighboring aromatic side chains of phenylalanines (B24 and B25) and tyrosines (B26 and B16). This surface contributes to the dimerization of insulin, maintains the active conformation of the insulin monomer, and has been suspected to be directly involved in receptor recognition. To investigate in detail the role of the B12 residue in insulin-receptor interactions, we have synthesized nine analogues bearing natural or unnatural amino acid replacements for valine B12 by chemical synthesis of modified insulin B-chains and the subsequent combination of each synthetic B-chain with natural insulin A-chain. The receptor binding potencies of the synthetic B12 analogues relative to porcine insulin were determined by use of isolated canine hepatocytes, and the following results were obtained: isoleucine, 13%; allo-isoleucine, 77%; tert-leucine, 107%; cyclopropylglycine, 43%; threonine, 5.4%; D-valine, 3.4%; alpha-amino-n-butyric acid, 14%; alanine, 1.0%; and glycine, 0.32%. Selected analogues were also analyzed by far-UV circular dichroic spectroscopy and by absorption spectroscopy of their complexes with Co(2+). Our results indicate that beta-branched aliphatic amino acids are generally tolerated at the B12 position with specific steric preferences and that the receptor binding potencies of these analogues correlate with their abilities to form dimers. Furthermore, the structure-activity relationships of valine B12 are quite similar to those of valine A3, suggesting that valine residues at both A3 and B12 contribute to the insulin-receptor interactions in a similar manner.