To compare glucose counter regulatory mechanisms during short-term hypoglycemia and prolonged hypoglycemia, insulin was infused either intravenously (160 mil · M−2 · min) for 10 min or subcutaneously (15 mU · M−2 · min) for 12 h in normal volunteers. With each type of insulin infusion, hypoglycemia (∼50 mg/dl) was either allowed to develop or was prevented (control experiments) by the glucose-clamp technique. During prolonged hypoglycemia, both increased glucose production (1.55 ± 0.05 versus 0.33 ± 0.14 mg · kg−1 · min in control experiments at 12 h, P < 0.01) and suppressed glucose utilization (1.55 ± 0.06 versus 3.17 ± 0.15 mg · kg−1 · min in control studies at 12 h, P < 0.01) were involved in counterregulation. During short-term hypoglycemia, only increased glucose production (3.23 ± 0.33 versus 0.06 ± 0.03 mg · kg−1 · min in control experiments at 60 min) was involved, since glucose clearance actually increased (3.99 ± 0.20 versus 2.88 ± 0.02 ml · kg−1 · min in control experiments at 60 min, P < 0.01). Estimated portal venous insulin concentrations decreased 40% (basal 24 ± 3 versus 14 ± 1 mU/ml at 60 min, P < 0.01) in the short-term hypoglycemia experiments but remained at basal levels (basal 25 ± 1 versus ∼26 μU/min between 1 and 12 h) during prolonged hypoglycemia. Despite the fact that hypoglycemia was more gradually induced in the prolonged hypoglycemia model, peak counterregulatory hormone responses were at least as great as those during short-term hypoglycemia. Plasma free fatty acids and ketone bodies increased 150–200% above basal (both P < 0.01) with counterregulation during prolonged hypoglycemia but did not increase above basal levels with counterregulation during short-term hypoglycemia. Finally, plasma alanine remained unchanged during short-term hypoglycemia but decreased nearly 40% during prolonged hypoglycemia (basal 327 ± 20 versus 208 ± 21 μM at 12 h, P < 0.01). We conclude that glucose counterregulatory mechanisms differ during short-term and prolonged hypoglycemia. In the former, only an increase in glucose production mediated by suppression of insulin secretion and increased glucagon secretion is involved, whereas during prolonged hypoglycemia, both a suppression of glucose utilization, and an increase in glucose production are important. These latter changes in glucose production and utilization may be influenced by changes in circulating nonglucose substrates (e.g., alanine, free fatty acids, and ketone bodies) as well as by hormonal factors acting on both hepatic and extrahepatic tissues.

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