Impaired epinephrine secretion and symptom unawareness are characteristic of severe hypoglycemia in individuals with long-standing type I diabetes. Recently, the avoidance of clinical hypoglycemia has been reported to improve epinephrine and symptom responses to hypoglycemia in type I patients. However, the extent to which these defects can be restored in individuals with long-standing type I diabetes and autonomic neuropathy has not been assessed, nor has it been determined whether pancreas transplantation, which not only obviates hypoglycemia but also prevents hyperglycemia, results in the complete recovery of either epinephrine response or symptom awareness during insulin-induced hypoglycemia. We performed stepped hypoglycemic clamp studies in successful pancreas transplantation recipients to assess epinephrine and other counterregulatory hormone responses during hypoglycemia and to determine the degree to which hypoglycemic symptom recognition could be restored. Thirteen pancreas transplant recipients and matched control subjects were studied utilizing stepped hypoglycemic clamp protocol to achieve target glucose levels of 3.9, 3.3, 2.8, and 2.2 mmol/l (70, 60, 50, and 40 mg/dl, respectively). Plasma epinephrine response was significantly greater in healthy control subjects and pancreas transplant patients compared with type I subjects at the glucose plateaus of 3.9, 3.3, and 2.8 mmol/l. However, epinephrine response in pancreas transplant recipients was significantly less than that seen in either healthy control subjects or nondiabetic kidney transplant recipients at each of these glucose plateaus. The magnitude of the epinephrine response in pancreas transplant type I patients did not correlate with either the duration of diabetes, the duration of transplantation, or the measures of autonomic nerve function. Hypoglycemic symptom recognition was significantly greater in pancreas transplant subjects than type I patients and did not differ between pancreas transplant and control groups. No improvement in norepinephrine response was observed after pancreas transplantation, while glucagon responses to hypoglycemia were normalized in pancreas transplant patients. In conclusion, these studies uniquely demonstrate that successful pancreas transplantation improves epinephrine response and normalizes hypoglycemia symptom recognition in patients with long-standing diabetes and established autonomic neuropathy. No correlation was observed between the severity of autonomic neuropathy or the duration of diabetes and the recovery of either the epinephrine or symptom responses to hypoglycemia.

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