Insulin Causes Endothelial Dysfunction in Humans

Background Insulin resistance is often accompanied by hyperinsulinemia and may predispose to atherosclerosis. Endothelium plays a central role in atherogenesis. The in vivo effects of hyperinsulinemia on endothelial function of large conduit arteries are unknown.

Methods and Results Twenty-five healthy subjects were enrolled for study. In study A (n=9), subjects underwent both a time-control saline study and a euglycemic low-dose insulin (insulin {approx}110 pmol/L) clamp for 6 hours. Study B (n=5) was identical to study A except that the euglycemic clamp was performed at high physiological insulin concentrations ({approx}440 pmol/L). In study C (n=7), subjects underwent two 4-hour euglycemic insulin ({approx}110 pmol/L) clamps with and without the concomitant infusion of an antioxidant (vitamin C).

 In study D (n=4), two saline time-control studies were performed with and without the concomitant infusion of vitamin C. In all studies, both at baseline and throughout the experimental period, endothelium-dependent (flow-mediated) and endothelium-independent (nitroglycerin-induced) vasodilation was assessed in femoral and brachial arteries by echo Doppler.

Both low (study A) and high physiological (study B) hyperinsulinemia abolished endothelium-dependent vasodilation, whereas endothelium-independent vasodilation was unaffected. Vitamin C fully restored insulin-impaired endothelial function without affecting endothelium-independent vasodilation (study C). Vitamin C had no effects on endothelium-dependent or endothelium-independent vasodilation during saline control studies (study D).

Conclusions Modest hyperinsulinemia, mimicking fasting hyperinsulinemia of insulin-resistant states, abrogates endothelium-dependent vasodilation in large conduit arteries, probably by increasing oxidant stress. These data may provide a novel pathophysiological basis to the epidemiological link between hyperinsulinemia/insulin-resistance and atherosclerosis in humans.

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