The vascular actions of insulin control its delivery to muscle and regulate the rate-limiting step in skeletal muscle insulin action

Diabetologia. 2009 May;52(5):752-64. doi: 10.1007/s00125-009-1313-z. Epub 2009 Mar 13.


Evidence suggests that insulin delivery to skeletal muscle interstitium is the rate-limiting step in insulin-stimulated muscle glucose uptake and that this process is impaired by insulin resistance. In this review we examine the basis for the hypothesis that insulin acts on the vasculature at three discrete steps to enhance its own delivery to muscle: (1) relaxation of resistance vessels to increase total blood flow; (2) relaxation of pre-capillary arterioles to increase the microvascular exchange surface perfused within skeletal muscle (microvascular recruitment); and (3) the trans-endothelial transport (TET) of insulin. Insulin can relax resistance vessels and increase blood flow to skeletal muscle. However, there is controversy as to whether this occurs at physiological concentrations of, and exposure times to, insulin. The microvasculature is recruited more quickly and at lower insulin concentrations than are needed to increase total blood flow, a finding consistent with a physiological role for insulin in muscle insulin delivery. Microvascular recruitment is impaired by obesity, diabetes and nitric oxide synthase inhibitors. Insulin TET is a third potential site for regulating insulin delivery. This is underscored by the consistent finding that steady-state insulin concentrations in plasma are approximately twice those in muscle interstitium. Recent in vivo and in vitro findings suggest that insulin traverses the vascular endothelium via a trans-cellular, receptor-mediated pathway, and emerging data indicate that insulin acts on the endothelium to facilitate its own TET. Thus, muscle insulin delivery, which is rate-limiting for its metabolic action, is itself regulated by insulin at multiple steps. These findings highlight the need to further understand the role of the vascular actions of insulin in metabolic regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glucose Clamp Technique
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Hyperinsulinism / physiopathology
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Kinetics
  • Microcirculation / physiology
  • Microdialysis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*


  • Insulin
  • Glucose