To evaluate the relative contribution of insulin binding and postbinding defects of glucose utilization in peripheral tissue during normal and diabetic pregnancy, we have studied the in vitro insulin action of isolated adipocytes from eight nondiabetic pregnant women and nine pregnant women with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus who were undergoing cesarian section. The pregnant women were compared with a matched group of normal nonpregnant women undergoing gynecologic surgery. Insulin binding to adipocytes measured at tracer insulin concentration was reduced by 45% (P < 0.01) in normal pregnant women and by 30% (P < 0.02) in pregnant women with diabetes. In contrast, no changes were found between the three groups in insulin binding to pure monocytes and erythrocytes.

The glucose transport system in fat cells from both groups of pregnant women was characterized by impaired maximal (P < 0.05) and half-maximal (P < 0.05) response to insulin. When fat cell glucose metabolism was studied, pregnant diabetic women exhibited decreased basal lipogenesis (P < 0.05) and decreased maximal responses of lipogenesis and glucose oxidation to insulin stimulation (P < 0.05). Similar but less pronounced abnormalities were seen in glucose metabolism of adipocytes from nondiabetic pregnant women.

In conclusion, both in late normal and diabetic pregnancy, insulin binding to adipocytes is significantly reduced and accompanied by decreased insulin sensitivity and reduced maximal insulin responsiveness of glucose transport and by impaired basal and maximally insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism.

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