OBJECTIVE: We tested the hypothesis that impaired tissue sensitivity to catecholamines contributes to hypoglycemia unawareness in subjects with type 1 diabetes. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: A total of 21 subjects with type 1 diabetes underwent a standardized insulin infusion protocol to produce a stepwise decrease in plasma glucose to 45-min plateaus of 4.3, 3.6, 3.0, and 2.3 mmol/l. Glycemic thresholds, maximum responses for adrenergic and neuroglycopenic symptoms, and counterregulatory hormones were determined. Patients were classified as hypoglycemia unaware if the initiation of adrenergic symptoms occurred at a plasma glucose level 2 SD below that of nondiabetic volunteers. beta-Adrenergic sensitivity was measured as the dose of isoproterenol required to produce an increment in heart rate of 25 beats per minute above baseline (I25) in resting subjects. RESULTS: Subjects with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness experienced the onset of adrenergic symptoms at a lower plasma glucose level than did those with awareness (2.5+/-0.1 vs. 3.7+/-0.1 mmol/l, P < 0.001), whereas neuroglycopenic symptoms occurred at similar glucose levels (2.7+/-0.2 vs. 2.8+/- 0.1 mmol/l). The plasma glucose levels for counterregulatory hormone secretion (epinephrine 2.9+/-0.2 vs. 4.1+/-0.2 mmol/l; norepinephrine 2.7+/-0.1 vs. 3.2+/-0.2 mmol/l; cortisol 2.5+/-0.2 vs. 3.3+/-0.2 mmol/l, P < 0.01) were also lower in subjects with unawareness. The maximal epinephrine (1,954+/-486 vs. 5,332+/- 1,059 pmol/l, P < 0.01), norepinephrine (0.73 +/- 0.14 vs. 1.47+/-0.21 nmol/l, P = 0.04), and cortisol (276+/-110 vs. 579+/-83 nmol/l, P < 0.01) responses were reduced in the unaware group. I25 was greater in unaware subjects than in subjects without unawareness (1.5+/-0.3 vs. 0.8+/-0.2 microg), where I25 was not different from that of controls (0.8 +/-0.2 microg). CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that subjects with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness have reduced beta-adrenergic sensitivity, which may contribute to their impaired adrenergic warning symptoms during hypoglycemia.

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