Background: Insulin resistance is a metabolic spectrum that progresses from hyperinsulinemia to the metabolic syndrome, impaired glucose tolerance, and finally type 2 diabetes mellitus. It is unclear when vascular abnormalities begin in this spectrum of metabolic effects.
Objective: To evaluate the association of insulin resistance with the presence and reversibility of coronary vasomotor abnormalities in young adults at low cardiovascular risk.
Design: Cross-sectional study followed by prospective, open-label treatment study.
Setting: University hospital.
Patients: 50 insulin-resistant and 22 insulin-sensitive, age-matched Mexican-American participants without glucose intolerance or traditional risk factors for or evidence of coronary artery disease.
Intervention: 3 months of thiazolidinedione therapy for 25 insulin-resistant patients.
Measurements: Glucose infusion rate in response to insulin infusion was used to define insulin resistance (glucose infusion rate < or = 4.00 mg/kg of body weight per minute [range, 0.90 to 3.96 mg/kg per minute]) and insulin sensitivity (glucose infusion rate > or = 7.50 mg/kg per minute [range, 7.52 to 13.92 mg/kg per minute]). Myocardial blood flow was measured by using positron emission tomography at rest, during cold pressor test (largely endothelium-dependent), and after dipyridamole administration (largely vascular smooth muscle-dependent).
Results: Myocardial blood flow responses to dipyridamole were similar in the insulin-sensitive and insulin-resistant groups. However, myocardial blood flow response to cold pressor test increased by 47.6% from resting values in insulin-sensitive patients and by 14.4% in insulin-resistant patients. During thiazolidinedione therapy in a subgroup of insulin-resistant patients, insulin sensitivity improved, fasting plasma insulin levels decreased, and myocardial blood flow responses to cold pressor test normalized.
Limitations: The study was not randomized, and it included only 1 ethnic group.
Conclusions: Insulin-resistant patients who do not have hypercholesterolemia or hypertension and do not smoke manifest coronary vasomotor abnormalities. Insulin-sensitizing thiazolidinedione therapy normalized these abnormalities. These results suggest an association between insulin resistance and abnormal coronary vasomotor function, a relationship that requires confirmation in larger studies.