Gastrocnemius muscle morphology, metabolic potential, and capillarization were analyzed in 48-year-old men with regard to subsequent development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) in 29 subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and in 38 control subjects. Over a 15-year period, although participating in an intervention program, 13 of the IGT subjects developed diabetes, but none of the control subjects developed diabetes. In view of their poor aerobic capacity, lack of physical fitness, and reduced glycolytic and oxidative enzymes, these 13 subjects manifested an unexpectedly high number of capillaries around all types of muscle fibers, especially type IIb fibers, as predictors of their progression to diabetes. Moreover, the number of capillaries per muscle fiber and the 2-h insulin value in the oral glucose tolerance test were highly correlated (r = 0.82, P < 0.005), whereas no correlation was found among IGT subjects who remained nondiabetic and in the control group. With body mass index and the 2-h glucose concentration included in a regression model, 68% of the variation in the number of capillaries per muscle fiber was explained (P < 0.05), with the 2-h insulin value independently accounting for 33%. These findings may suggest that the increased circulating insulin concentrations in IGT subjects have a capillary proliferative effect, perhaps to compensate for reduced capillary insulin diffusion and metabolic capacity of the muscle.

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