Role of the sympathetic adrenal system in the pathogenesis of the insulin resistance syndrome

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999 Nov 18;892:84-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb07787.x.


The pathophysiology of the various manifestations of Syndrome X has been poorly understood. A possible mechanism involves stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Insulin plays an important role in the relationship between dietary intake and SNS activity. Because insulin-mediated glucose uptake in central hypothalamic neurons regulates SNS activity in response to dietary intake, a hypothesis was developed that links the hyperinsulinemia of obesity to sympathetic stimulation, the latter exerting a prohypertensive effect mediated by the kidney, the heart, and the vasculature. Evidence in support of this hypothesis has been obtained from the Normative Aging Study (NAS) in which a relationship between insulin (and glucose) and the SNS, and between insulin and SNS activity and blood pressure was demonstrated. The characteristic dyslipidemia in NAS subjects, moreover, was related to insulin and epinephrine. As reported in other studies, insulin level was directly associated with low HDL and high triglyceride levels. An independent inverse association was also noted between urinary epinephrine excretion and lipid levels: high epinephrine excretion rates were associated with high HDL and low triglyceride levels and, conversely, low epinephrine excretion was associated with low HDL and high triglycerides. In the NAS, therefore, increased SNS activity contributes to hypertension while diminished adrenal medullary activity contributes to the low HDL and high triglyceride levels commonly seen in association with hypertension.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Humans
  • Hyperinsulinism / metabolism
  • Hyperinsulinism / physiopathology*
  • Hyperlipidemias / metabolism
  • Hyperlipidemias / physiopathology*
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Hypertension / metabolism
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*