Understanding Carbohydrate Metabolism and Insulin Resistance in Acute Intermittent Porphyria

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Dec 20;24(1):51. doi: 10.3390/ijms24010051.


Porphobilinogen deaminase (PBGD) haploinsufficiency (acute intermittent porphyria, AIP) is characterized by neurovisceral attacks associated with high production, accumulation and urinary excretion of heme precursors, δ-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) and porphobilinogen (PBG). The estimated clinical penetrance for AIP is extremely low (<1%), therefore it is likely that other factors may play an important role in the predisposition to developing attacks. Fasting is a known triggering factor. Given the increased prevalence of insulin resistance in patients and the large urinary loss of succinyl-CoA to produce ALA and PBG, we explore the impact of reduced availability of energy metabolites in the severity of AIP pathophysiology. Classic studies found clinical improvement in patients affected by AIP associated with the administration of glucose and concomitant insulin secretion, or after hyperinsulinemia associated with diabetes. Molecular studies have confirmed that glucose and insulin administration induces a repressive effect on hepatic ALA Synthase, the first and regulatory step of the heme pathway. More recently, the insulin-mimicking α-lipoic acid has been shown to improve glucose metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction in a hepatocyte cell line transfected with interfering RNA targeting PBGD. In AIP mice, preventive treatment with an experimental fusion protein of insulin and apolipoprotein A-I improved the disease by promoting fat mobilization in adipose tissue, increasing the metabolite bioavailability for the TCA cycle and inducing mitochondrial biogenesis in the liver. In this review, we analyze the possible mechanisms underlying abnormal hepatocellular carbohydrate homeostasis in AIP.

Keywords: acute intermittent porphyria; fasting; glucose homeostasis; hepatic porphyrias; insulin resistance; mitochondrial function and biogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Glucose / therapeutic use
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylbilane Synthase / genetics
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Mice
  • Porphobilinogen / urine
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent* / genetics
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent* / therapy


  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • Glucose
  • Heme
  • Hydroxymethylbilane Synthase
  • Insulin
  • Porphobilinogen