Purpose: Individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) have an increased prevalence of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In able-bodied individuals, training with large muscle groups increases insulin sensitivity and may prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, individuals with SCI cannot voluntarily recruit major muscle groups, but by functional electrical stimulation (FES) they can now perform ergometer bicycle training.
Methods: Ten subjects with SCI (35 +/- 2 yr (mean +/- SE), 73 +/- 5 kg, level of lesion C6--Th4, time since injury: 12 +/- 2 yr) performed 1 yr of FES cycling (30 min x d(-1), 3 d x wk(-1) (intensive training)). Seven subjects continued 6 months with reduced training (1 d x wk(-1) (reduced training)). A sequential, hyperinsulinemic (50 mU x min(-1) x m(-2) (step 1) and 480 mU x min(-1) x m(-2) (step 2)), euglycemic clamp, an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), and determination of GLUT 4 transporter protein in muscle biopsies were performed before and after training.
Results: Insulin-stimulated glucose uptake rates increased after intensive training (from 4.9 +/- 0.5 mg x min(-1) x kg(-1) to 6.2 +/- 0.6 mg x min(-1) x kg(-1) (P < 0.008) (step 1) and from 9.0 +/- 0.8 mg x min(-1) x kg(-1) to 10.6 +/- 0.8 mg x min(-1) x kg(-1) (P = 0.103) (step 2)). With the reduction in training, insulin sensitivity decreased to a similar level as before training (P > 0.05). GLUT 4 increased by 105% after intense training and decreased again with the training reduction. The subjects had impaired glucose tolerance before and after training, and neither glucose tolerance nor insulin responses to OGTT were significantly altered by training.
Conclusions: Electrically induced bicycle training, performed three times per week increases insulin sensitivity and GLUT 4 content in skeletal muscle in subjects with SCI. A reduction in training to once per week is not sufficient to maintain these effects. FES training may have a role in the prevention of the insulin resistance syndrome in persons with SCI.