It was hypothesized that in response to insulin-induced severe hypoglycemia, excess calcium influx into the heart causes fatal cardiac arrhythmias. To test if blocking the calcium channels would decrease fatal cardiac arrhythmias during severe hypoglycemia, L-type calcium channel blocker (Verapamil; 1 mg/kg, n = 25) or saline (n = 24) were infused into Sprague Dawley rats during a hyperinsulinemic (0.2 mU/kg/min) severe hypoglycemic (10-15 mg/dl) clamp for 3 hours with ECG. During severe hypoglycemia, verapamil completely prevented mortality compared to 21% mortality in controls (p < 0.05; Figure). Decreased mortality was associated with a 99% decrease in 2nd degree heart block (Figure) and prevention of 3rd degree heart block compared to saline (p < 0.05). Glucagon and epinephrine were similar between the groups suggesting verapamil does not affect hypoglycemic counterregulation. Consistent with the notion of calcium-mediated arrhythmias, separate experiments demonstrated that pharmacological blockade of ryanodine receptor-mediated calcium signaling also reduced heart block by 97% and prevented mortality due to hypoglycemia.

In summary, blocking calcium channels protects against severe hypoglycemia-induced fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Blockade of cardiac calcium channels could be a potential approach to prevent arrhythmias in people with diabetes at risk for hypoglycemia.


C.M. Reno: None. Y. Huang: None. C.G. Christensen: None. M.B. Oxspring: None. J. Bayles: None. S.J. Fisher: None.


National Institutes of Health (5T32DK091317, R01NS070235); JDRF (3-APF-2017-407-A-N)

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