Background: Defective glucose counterregulation and hypoglycemia unawareness are both well-recognized risk factors for recurrent episodes of severe hypoglycemia in patients with type I diabetes. At present, no conventional therapy is available to routinely overcome these acquired impairments in long-standing diabetes.
Methods: To test the hypothesis that successful intraportal islet transplantation could improve this syndrome, hormonal counterregulatory responses and symptoms were studied during stepped hypoglycemic clamp tests before and after intraportal islet transplantation in three patients with type I diabetes who were prone to severe hypoglycemia.
Results: As compared with matched nondiabetic control subjects, before islet transplantation, glucagon responses were absent while epinephrine and cortisol responses were either markedly decreased or absent in all diabetic subjects. One patient also had decreased norepinephrine and growth hormone responses. Autonomic warning symptoms were absent in all patients during hypoglycemia. One month after successful islet transplantation, there was no improvement in the glucagon response. However, glycemic thresholds and/or peak incremental responses of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol improved in all patients. Moreover, all patients had developed autonomic warning symptoms so that glycemic thresholds were detectable within the examined range.
Conclusion: We conclude that intraportal islet transplantation does not restore hypoglycemia-induced glucagon secretion, but it improves the responses of most counterregulatory hormones and hypoglycemic warning symptoms even in long-standing type I diabetes.