Recurrent Moderate Hypoglycemia Ameliorates Brain Damage and Cognitive Dysfunction Induced by Severe Hypoglycemia

  1. Simon J. Fisher1,3
  1. 1Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Lipid Research, Department of Medicine, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri;
  2. 2Department of Psychiatry, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri;
  3. 3Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.
  1. Corresponding author: Simon Fisher, sfisher{at}


OBJECTIVE Although intensive glycemic control achieved with insulin therapy increases the incidence of both moderate and severe hypoglycemia, clinical reports of cognitive impairment due to severe hypoglycemia have been highly variable. It was hypothesized that recurrent moderate hypoglycemia preconditions the brain and protects against damage caused by severe hypoglycemia.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS Nine-week-old male Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to either 3 consecutive days of recurrent moderate (25–40 mg/dl) hypoglycemia (RH) or saline injections. On the fourth day, rats were subjected to a hyperinsulinemic (0.2 units · kg−1 · min−1) severe hypoglycemic (∼11 mg/dl) clamp for 60 or 90 min. Neuronal damage was subsequently assessed by hematoxylin-eosin and Fluoro-Jade B staining. The functional significance of severe hypoglycemia–induced brain damage was evaluated by motor and cognitive testing.

RESULTS Severe hypoglycemia induced brain damage and striking deficits in spatial learning and memory. Rats subjected to recurrent moderate hypoglycemia had 62–74% less brain cell death and were protected from most of these cognitive disturbances.

CONCLUSIONS Antecedent recurrent moderate hypoglycemia preconditioned the brain and markedly limited both the extent of severe hypoglycemia–induced neuronal damage and associated cognitive impairment. In conclusion, changes brought about by recurrent moderate hypoglycemia can be viewed, paradoxically, as providing a beneficial adaptive response in that there is mitigation against severe hypoglycemia–induced brain damage and cognitive dysfunction.


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    • Received October 8, 2009.
    • Accepted January 6, 2010.

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