Preserved Glucoregulation but Attenuation of the Vascular Actions of Insulin in Mice Heterozygous for Knockout of the Insulin Receptor

  1. Stephen B. Wheatcroft,
  2. Ajay M. Shah,
  3. Jian-Mei Li,
  4. Edward Duncan,
  5. Brian T. Noronha,
  6. Paul A. Crossey and
  7. Mark T. Kearney
  1. From the Department of Cardiology, Guy’s King’s & St. Thomas’s School of Medicine, King’s College London, London, U.K
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Mark Kearney, Department of Cardiology, GKT School of Medicine, Bessemer Road, London SE5 9PJ, U.K. E-mail: mark.kearney{at}


Type 2 diabetes is preceded by years of insulin resistance and is characterized by reduced bioavailability of the antiatherosclerotic signaling molecule nitric oxide (NO) and premature atherosclerosis. The relationship between resistance to the glucoregulatory actions of insulin and its effects on the vasculature (in particular NO-dependent responses) is poorly characterized. We studied this relationship in mice heterozygous for knockout of the insulin receptor (IRKO), which have a mild perturbation of insulin signaling. Male heterozygous IRKO mice aged 8–12 weeks were compared with age- and sex-matched littermates. IRKO mice had fasting blood glucose, insulin, free fatty acid, and triglyceride levels similar to those of wild-type mice. Intraperitoneal glucose and insulin tolerance tests were also similar in the two groups. Insulin levels in response to a glucose load were approximately twofold higher in IRKO compared with wild-type mice (1.08 ± 0.11 vs. 0.62 ± 0.13 ng/ml; P = 0.004). Despite this mild metabolic phenotype, IRKO mice had increased systolic blood pressure (124 ± 4 vs. 110 ± 3 mmHg; P = 0.01). Basal NO bioactivity, assessed from the increase in tension of phenylephrine preconstricted aortic rings in response to the NO synthase inhibitor NG-monomethyl-l-arginine, was reduced in IRKO (61 ± 14 vs. 152 ± 30%; P = 0.005). Insulin-mediated NO release in aorta, assessed as the reduction in phenylephrine constrictor response after insulin preincubation, was lost in IRKO mice (5 ± 8% change vs. 66 ± 9% reduction in wild-type; P = 0.03). Insulin-stimulated aortic endothelial NO synthase phosphorylation was also significantly blunted in IRKO mice (P < 0.05). These data demonstrate that insulin-stimulated NO responses in the vasculature are exquisitely sensitive to changes in insulin-signaling pathways in contrast to the glucoregulatory actions of insulin. These findings underscore the importance of early intervention in insulin-resistant states, where glucose homeostasis may be normal but substantial abnormalities of the vascular effects of insulin may already be present.


    • Accepted July 2, 2004.
    • Received March 27, 2004.
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