Background: Insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion both occur in non-insulin-dependent diabetes (NIDDM), but their relative importance is unclear. Hyperglycemia itself has adverse effects on tissue insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion that make it difficult to distinguish between primary and secondary abnormalities. To avoid this problem we studied subjects with postprandial glucose intolerance but not sustained hyperglycemia.
Methods: We compared the rate of systemic appearance and disappearance of glucose, the output of endogenous hepatic glucose, splanchnic and muscle uptake of glucose, and plasma insulin and glucagon responses after the ingestion of 1 g of glucose per kilogram of body weight in 15 subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (8 of them nonobese and 7 obese) and in 16 normal subjects (9 nonobese and 7 obese) who were matched for age and weight.
Results: After glucose ingestion the mean (+/- SE) rate of total systemic appearance of glucose was significantly higher in both the nonobese subjects (455 +/- 12 mmol per five hours) and the obese subjects (486 +/- 17 mmol per five hours) with impaired glucose tolerance than in the respective normal subjects (411 +/- 11 and 436 +/- 7 mmol per five hours). This difference was fully accounted for by the reduced suppression of endogenous hepatic glucose in the subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (a reduction of about 28 percent, vs. 48 percent in the normal subjects; P less than 0.01). Despite late hyperinsulinemia, at 30 minutes the subjects with impaired glucose tolerance had smaller increases in plasma insulin and smaller reductions in plasma glucagon (both P less than 0.01). Molar ratios of plasma insulin to plasma glucagon levels correlated inversely (r = -0.62, P less than 0.001) with the rates of systemic glucose appearance; the latter correlated positively (r = 0.72, P less than 0.0001) with peak plasma glucose concentrations.
Conclusions: Impaired glucose tolerance, the precursor of NIDDM, results primarily from reduced suppression of hepatic glucose output due to abnormal pancreatic islet-cell function. The late hyperinsulinemia may be the consequence of an inadequate early beta-cell response rather than of insulin resistance.