To evaluate the impact of mild hypoglycemia on CNS function in healthy adults, we measured brain stem auditory evoked potentials and P300 potentials (elicited by cognitive processing of auditory stimuli) during hypoglycemic or euglycemic insulin clamps (80 mU · m−2 · min−1). In the hypoglycemic clamp study (n = 8), plasma glucose was allowed to fall from 4.6 to 3 mM in hourly ∼0.5-mM steps and subsequently returned to euglycemic baseline levels. In the euglycemic clamp study (n = 8), plasma glucose was maintained at baseline levels throughout. Neither brain stem nor P300 responses changed during the euglycemic control study; symptoms and counterregulatory hormones were also unaffected. During the hypoglycemia study, epinephrine and growth hormone rose once plasma glucose reached 3.4 ± 0.1 mM. Brain stem and P300 potentials remained unchanged until the 3-mM glucose step, when neurophysiological changes suddenly developed in conjunction with reported symptoms. At this glucose level, the wave V component of the brain stem potential was selectively altered in 7 of 8 subjects. Furthermore, P300 latency significantly increased, and amplitude diminished. Changes in both brain stem and cortical (P300) responses reversed when euglycemia was restored. We conclude that modest reductions in plasma glucose (to 3 mM) produce marked alterations in both brain stem and cortical responses to auditory stimuli. These changes in neural function appear at the same time as symptoms and follow rather than precede the rise in counterregulatory hormones during hypoglycemia. Our data suggest that the adverse effects of mild hypoglycemia on brain function are not limited to higher centers but also involve the brain stem.

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