To define the metabolic effects of metformin in the treatment of NIDDM and to evaluate potential mechanisms for its ability to improve glycemic control.


Sulfonylurea-treated patients, with inadequate glycemic control, were treated with metformin in either a placebo-controlled or open fashion. Measurements were made of 1) fasting and postprandial plasma glucose, insulin, and free fatty acid (FFA) concentrations; 2) glucose appearance and disappearance rates measured overnight with 3-[3H]glucose; and 3) plasma FFA concentrations during a 45-min infusion period at relatively low (∼ 60 pmol/l) insulin concentrations.


Mean ± SE hourly plasma glucose, insulin, and FFA concentrations were similar before and after treatment in the placebo group. In contrast, mean hourly plasma glucose concentrations were significantly lower (P < 0.005) after metformin treatment in both the placebo-controlled and open-label groups (−3.9 ± 1.0 and −4.4 ± 0.8 mmol/l, respectively). Similarly, day-long hourly FFA levels were lower (P < 0.005) following metformin in the placebo-controlled and open-label groups (−87 ± 35 and −136 ± 31 μmol/l, respectively). Plasma insulin concentrations did not change with treatment in any group. Overnight glucose turnover studies indicated that neither the rate of glucose appearance (hepatic glucose production) or glucose disappearance changed significantly with treatment in the placebo or metformin groups. Because plasma glucose concentration was much lower after metformin treatment, overnight glucose metabolic clearance rate was significantly (P < 0.001) lower in this group. Finally, plasma FFA concentrations in response to a low-dosage insulin infusion (5 mU · m−2 · min−1) were significantly lower after metformin as compared with the placebo-treated group (P < 0.001).


Metformin treatment was associated with significantly lower day-long plasma glucose and FFA concentrations. Although overnight hepatic glucose production was unchanged following treatment with metformin, the overnight glucose metabolic clearance rate significantly increased. Given these findings, it is suggested that at least part of the antihyperglycemic effect of metformin is due to an increase in glucose uptake, secondary to a decrease in release of FFA from adipose tissue, and lower circulating FFA concentrations.

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