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Mechanism of action of insulin in diabetic patients: a dose-related effect on glucose production and utilisation

Br Med J 1978; 1 doi: (Published 13 May 1978) Cite this as: Br Med J 1978;1:1239
  1. P M Brown,
  2. C V Tompkins,
  3. S Juul,
  4. P H Sönksen


    Six insulin-requiring diabetics were studied after insulin had been withheld for 24 hours. On three separate occasions each received a two-hour infusion of insulin at a low dose (2·6 U/h) and a high dose (10·6 U/h) and an infusion of saline as control. The rates of production and utilisation of glucose were measured isotopically. The rate of fall of plasma glucose concentration was faster on the high-dose infusion of insulin than on the low, whereas the fall in plasma free fatty acids, glycerol, and keton bodies was the same on both insulin infusions. The mechanism whereby the two rates of insulin administration lowered plasma glucose concentration differed: during the low-dose infusion the decrease in the glucose concentration was produced entirely by a fall of hepatic glucose output, whereas during the high-dose insulin infusion the glucose concentration fell because both the rate of glucose production fell and the rate of glucose utilisation rose. In all experiments there was a direct relation between a fall in serum potassium concentration and the fall in plasma glucose concentration irrespective of the mechanism that reduced the glucose concentration.

    These results indicate that in uncontrolled diabetics low-dose insulin infusions lower the blood glucose concentration entirely by reducing glucose production from the liver and that the effect of insulin on potassium transport is independent of its effect on glucose uptake.