Insulin Enhances Endothelial Function Throughout the Arterial Tree in Healthy But Not Metabolic Syndrome Subjects

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Mar;101(3):1198-206. doi: 10.1210/jc.2015-3293. Epub 2016 Jan 12.


Context: Insulin reportedly impairs endothelial function in conduit arteries but improves it in resistance and microvascular arterioles in healthy humans. No studies have assessed endothelial function at three arterial levels in healthy or metabolic syndrome (METSYN) subjects.

Objective: The objective of the study was to compare endothelial responsiveness of conduit arteries, resistance, and microvascular arterioles to insulin in healthy and METSYN subjects.

Design: We assessed conduit, resistance, and microvascular arterial function in the postabsorptive and postprandial states and during euglycemic hyperinsulinemia (insulin clamp).

Setting: The study was conducted at a clinical research unit.

Participants: Age-matched healthy and METSYN subjects participated in the study.

Interventions: We used brachial flow-mediated dilation, forearm postischemic flow velocity, and contrast-enhanced ultrasound to assess the conduit artery, resistance arteriole, and microvascular arteriolar endothelial function, respectively. We also assessed the conduit artery stiffness (pulse wave velocity and augmentation index) and measured the plasma concentrations of 92 cardiovascular disease biomarkers at baseline and after the clamp.

Results: Postabsorptive and postprandial endothelial function was similar in controls and METSYN in all tested vessels. METSYN subjects were metabolically insulin resistant (P < .005). In controls, but not METSYN subjects, during euglycemic hyperinsulinemia, endothelial function improved at each level of arterial vasculature (P < .05 or less for each). Conduit vessel stiffness (pulse wave velocity) was increased in the METSYN group. Twelve of 92 biomarkers differed at baseline (P < .001) and remained different at the end of the insulin clamp.

Conclusions: We conclude that insulin enhances arterial endothelial function in health but not in METSYN, and this vascular insulin resistance may underlie its increased cardiovascular disease risk.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arteries / drug effects*
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Blood Flow Velocity / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Glucose Clamp Technique
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Insulin / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulse Wave Analysis
  • Vascular Resistance / drug effects
  • Vascular Resistance / physiology


  • Insulin