Brain insulin action regulates hypothalamic glucose sensing and the counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia

Kelly A. Diggs-Andrews, Xuezhao Zhang, Zhentao Song, Dorit Daphna-Iken, Vanessa H. Routh, Simon J. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE - An impaired ability to sense and appropriately respond to insulin-induced hypoglycemia is a common and serious complication faced by insulin-treated diabetic patients. This study tests the hypothesis that insulin acts directly in the brain to regulate critical glucose-sensing neurons in the hypothalamus to mediate the counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS - To delineate insulin actions in the brain, neuron-specific insulin receptor knockout (NIRKO) mice and littermate controls were subjected to graded hypoglycemic (100, 70, 50, and 30 mg/dl) hyperinsulinemic (20 mU/kg/min) clamps and nonhypoglycemic stressors (e.g., restraint, heat). Subsequently, counterregulatory responses, hypothalamic neuronal activation (with transcriptional marker c-fos), and regional brain glucose uptake (via 14C-2deoxyglucose autoradiography) were measured. Additionally, electrophysiological activity of individual glucose-inhibited neurons and hypothalamic glucose sensing protein expression (GLUTs, glucokinase) were measured. RESULTS - NIRKO mice revealed a glycemia-dependent impairment in the sympathoadrenal response to hypoglycemia and demonstrated markedly reduced (3-fold) hypothalamic c-fos activation in response to hypoglycemia but not other stressors. Glucose-inhibited neurons in the ventromedial hypothalamus of NIRKO mice displayed significantly blunted glucose responsiveness (membrane potential and input resistance responses were blunted 66 and 80%, respectively). Further, hypothalamic expression of the insulin-responsive GLUT 4, but not glucokinase, was reduced by 30% in NIRKO mice while regional brain glucose uptake remained unaltered. CONCLUSIONS - Chronically, insulin acts in the brain to regulate the counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia by directly altering glucose sensing in hypothalamic neurons and shifting the glycemic levels necessary to elicit a normal sympathoadrenal response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2271-2280
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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