Variability of glucose-lowering effect as a limiting factor in optimizing basal insulin therapy: a review

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2013 Aug;15(8):701-12. doi: 10.1111/dom.12087. Epub 2013 Mar 24.


Lowering blood glucose with insulin therapy towards beneficial target levels while also avoiding hypoglycaemia is a challenging task. An important confounding factor, which might be under-appreciated in this scenario, is that of variable glucose readings causing difficulties with dose adjustment. Furthermore, this glucose variability is, to some extent, a reflection of variability in the glucose-lowering action of the insulin therapy itself. Not only is glucose variability a major confounding factor in disease management but it is possibly also of direct prognostic consequence and is increasingly recognized as an informative measurement in diabetes management. The scope for insulin-induced glucose variability is particularly great with basal insulins because of their prolonged absorption from high-dose depots. Pharmacodynamic (PD) variability manifests as both fluctuations in the level of glucose-lowering effect over time, and as inconsistencies in the response from one injection to another. Well-controlled pharmacokinetic (PK)/PD studies using repeated isoglycaemic clamp methodology clearly how that many injected basal insulin products have high variable absorption with correspondingly variable action. Incomplete resuspension and precipitation appear to be important issues with regard to unpredictability in this action, while an inadequate duration of action relative to the dosing interval results in a fluctuating action profile. There are some ultra-long-acting basal insulins with novel protraction mechanisms currently in clinical development for which clamp studies show markedly improved PK/PD profiles.

Keywords: PEGylated lispro; basal insulin; diabetes mellitus; glucose fluctuation; glucose variability; insulin absorption; insulin degludec; insulin variability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / blood
  • Hypoglycemia / drug therapy*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Insulin Detemir
  • Insulin, Long-Acting / administration & dosage*
  • Insulin, Long-Acting / pharmacokinetics
  • Insulin, Long-Acting / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin, Long-Acting
  • Insulin Detemir