From the Triumvirate to the Ominous Octet: A New Paradigm for the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

  1. Ralph A. DeFronzo
  1. From the Diabetes Division, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas.
  1. Corresponding author: Ralph A. DeFronzo, albarado{at}

Insulin resistance in muscle and liver and β-cell failure represent the core pathophysiologic defects in type 2 diabetes. It now is recognized that the β-cell failure occurs much earlier and is more severe than previously thought. Subjects in the upper tertile of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) are maximally/near-maximally insulin resistant and have lost over 80% of their β-cell function. In addition to the muscle, liver, and β-cell (triumvirate), the fat cell (accelerated lipolysis), gastrointestinal tract (incretin deficiency/resistance), α-cell (hyperglucagonemia), kidney (increased glucose reabsorption), and brain (insulin resistance) all play important roles in the development of glucose intolerance in type 2 diabetic individuals. Collectively, these eight players comprise the ominous octet and dictate that: 1) multiple drugs used in combination will be required to correct the multiple pathophysiological defects, 2) treatment should be based upon reversal of known pathogenic abnormalities and not simply on reducing the A1C, and 3) therapy must be started early to prevent/slow the progressive β-cell failure that already is well established in IGT subjects. A treatment paradigm shift is recommended in which combination therapy is initiated with diet/exercise, metformin (which improves insulin sensitivity and has antiatherogenic effects), a thiazolidinedione (TZD) (which improves insulin sensitivity, preserves β-cell function, and exerts antiatherogenic effects), and exenatide (which preserves β-cell function and promotes weight loss). Sulfonylureas are not recommended because, after an initial improvement in glycemic control, they are associated with a progressive rise in A1C and progressive loss of β-cell function.


The natural history of type 2 diabetes has been well described in multiple populations (116) (rev. in (17,18). Individuals destined to develop type 2 diabetes inherit a set of genes from their parents that make their tissues resistant to insulin (1,16,1924). In liver, the insulin resistance is manifested by …

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