Therapeutic potential of insulin-like growth factor-1 in patients with diabetes mellitus

Treat Endocrinol. 2002;1(6):399-410. doi: 10.2165/00024677-200201060-00005.


Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and its receptors share considerable homology with insulin and insulin receptors, and their respective signaling pathways interact at the post receptor level. While the growth hormone (GH)-IGF-1 axis principally regulates tissue growth and differentiation, insulin exerts it primary effects on fuel metabolism. However, these two endocrine systems interact at multiple levels and in diabetes mellitus the GH-IGF-1 axis is grossly disturbed, with increased secretion of GH, reduced plasma levels of IGF-1, and complex tissue-specific changes in IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs). These observations have given rise to the view that GH-IGF-1 axis dysfunction, particularly low plasma levels of circulating IGF-1, probably play a significant role in several aspects of the pathophysiology of diabetes mellitus, including insulin resistance and poor glycemic control, and may also influence the development of microvascular complications. The availability of recombinant human IGF-1 (rhIGF-1; mecasermin), used either alone or in combination with insulin, has led to experimental studies and clinical trials in humans testing these hypotheses. These studies have examined the impact of subcutaneous rhIGF-1 injections on sensitivity and metabolic parameters. In patients with type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus, insulin sensitivity is significantly improved, insulin requirements are reduced, and glycemic control of dyslipidemia is generally improved in short-term studies. rhIGF-1 is a particularly attractive possibility in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, where insulin resistance is the fundamental problem. Some patients with genetic syndromes of severe insulin resistance also benefit from treatment with rhIGF-1, which can bypass blocks in the insulin signaling pathway. The common adverse effects reported for rhIGF-1 are dose-related and include edema, jaw pain, arthralgia, myalgia, hypotension, injection site pain, and less commonly, Bell's palsy and raised intracranial pressure. Although disturbance of the GH-IGF-1 axis participates in the development of diabetic complications, the functional consequences of the complex changes in IGFBP expression at the tissue level are uncertain, and it is not known whether systemic IGF-1 therapy or other manipulations of the GH-IGF-1 axis would be helpful or harmful. Experimentally, IGF-1 has a protective effect on neuropathy, and could find an application in the healing of neuropathic ulcers. The potential benefits of IGF-1 therapy in diabetes mellitus have yet to be realised.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / therapeutic use*


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I