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Research Article

Enhanced glycemic responsiveness to epinephrine in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is the result of the inability to secrete insulin. Augmented insulin secretion normally limits the glycemic, but not the lipolytic or ketogenic, response to epinephrine in humans.

M A Berk, W E Clutter, D Skor, S D Shah, R P Gingerich, C A Parvin and P E Cryer

Published June 1985

To determine if the enhanced glycemic response to epinephrine in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is the result of increased adrenergic sensitivity per se, increased glucagon secretion, decreased insulin secretion, or a combination of these, plasma epinephrine concentration-response curves were determined in insulin-infused (initially euglycemic) patients with IDDM and nondiabetic subjects on two occasions: once when insulin and glucagon were free to change (control study), and again when insulin and glucagon were held constant (islet clamp study). During the control study, plasma C-peptide doubled, and glucagon did not change in the nondiabetic subjects, whereas plasma C-peptide did not change but glucagon increased in the patients. The patients with IDDM exhibited threefold greater increments in plasma glucose, largely the result of greater increments in glucose production. This enhanced glycemic response was apparent with 30-min increments in epinephrine to plasma concentrations as low as 100-200 pg/ml, levels that occur commonly under physiologic conditions. During the islet clamp study (somatostatin infusion with insulin and glucagon replacement at fixed rates), the heightened glycemic response was unaltered in the patients with IDDM, but the nondiabetic subjects exhibited an enhanced glycemic response to epinephrine indistinguishable from that of patients with IDDM. In contrast, the FFA, glycerol, and beta-hydroxybutyrate responses were unaltered. Thus, we conclude the following: Short, physiologic increments in plasma epinephrine cause greater increments in plasma glucose in patients with IDDM than in nondiabetic subjects, a finding likely to be relevant to glycemic control during the daily lives of such patients as well as during the stress of intercurrent illness. Enhanced glycemic responsiveness of patients with IDDM to epinephrine is not the result of increased sensitivity of adrenergic receptor-effector mechanisms per se nor of their increased glucagon secretory response; rather, it is the result of their inability to augment insulin secretion. Augmented insulin secretion, albeit restrained, normally limits the glycemic response, but not the lipolytic or ketogenic responses, to epinephrine in humans.

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