Studies of heart-rate variability have demonstrated that abnormal cardiac parasympathetic activity in individuals with IDDM precedes the development of other signs or symptoms of diabetic autonomic neuropathy. To determine whether IDDM patients have impaired sympathetic activity compared with normal control subjects before the onset of overt neuropathy, we directly recorded MSNA. We also examined the effects of changes in plasma glucose and insulin on sympathetic function in each group. MSNA was recorded by using microneurographic techniques in 10 IDDM patients without clinically evident diabetic complications and 10 control subjects. MSNA was compared during a 15-min fasting baseline period and during insulin infusion (120 mU · m−2 · min−1) with 30 min of euglycemia. A cold pressor test was performed at the end of euglycemia. Power spectral analysis of 24-h RR variability was used to assess cardiac autonomic function. IDDM patients had lower MSNA than control subjects at baseline (8 ± 1 vs. 18 ± 3 burst/min, P < 0.02). MSNA increased in both groups with insulin infusion (P < 0.01) but remained lower in IDDM patients (20 ± 3 vs. 28 ± 3 burst/min, P < 0.01). In the IDDM group, we found no relationships between MSNA and plasma glucose, insulin, or HbA1c concentrations. BP levels did not differ at rest or during insulin. Heart-rate variability and the MSNA response to cold pressor testing in IDDM patients did not differ from those in healthy control subjects. IDDM patients had reduced MSNA at rest and in response to insulin. The lower MSNA is not attributable to differences in plasma glucose or insulin, but, rather, is most likely an early manifestation of diabetic autonomic neuropathy that precedes impaired cardiac parasympathetic control.

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