To test the hypothesis that nuclei of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) play a key role in the detection of counterregulatory responses to hypoglycemia, we delivered the glucopenic agent 2-deoxyglucose via bilaterally placed microdialysis probes into the VMH of conscious, chronically catheterized rats. The goal was to produce cellular glucopenia localized to the VMH. The volume of brain tissue exposed to 2-deoxyglucose was determined by adding [3H]2-deoxyglucose to the dialysate; its distribution in cerebral tissue was almost exclusively limited to the VMH. Rats with microdialysis probes placed into the frontal lobes served as a control group. Local perfusion of 2-deoxyglucose (but not glucose) into the VMH caused a prompt twofold increase in plasma glucose in association with a striking elevation of plasma glucagon (3.5-fold), epinephrine (30-fold), and norepinephrine (3.5-fold). No effect was seen when 2-deoxyglucose was delivered into the frontal lobes. We conclude that glucopenia localized to the VMH triggers the release of counterregulatory hormones that defend against hypoglycemia. Thus, the neurons that sense glucopenia may be situated in the VMH.

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