Lactate and the Mechanism of Hypoglycemia-Associated Autonomic Failure in Diabetes

  1. Philip E. Cryer2
  1. 1Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes of the Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri
  2. 2Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Lipid Research, Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri
  1. Corresponding author: Philip E. Cryer, pcryer{at}

Iatrogenic hypoglycemia is a problem for many people with diabetes (1). It causes recurrent morbidity in most people with type 1 diabetes and many with advanced type 2 diabetes and is sometimes fatal. It generally precludes maintenance of euglycemia over a lifetime of diabetes and therefore full realization of the benefits of glycemic control. It impairs defenses against subsequent falling plasma glucose concentrations and causes a vicious cycle of recurrent hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia in diabetes is typically the result of the interplay of therapeutic insulin excess—caused by treatment with insulin, a sulfonylurea, or a glinide—and compromised physiological and behavioral defenses against falling plasma glucose concentrations (1,2). Compromised physiological defenses include loss of the normal decrease in β-cell insulin secretion and increase in α-cell glucagon secretion and attenuation of the normal increase in adrenomedullary epinephrine secretion during hypoglycemia. The compromised behavioral defense is failure to ingest carbohydrates because of loss of symptoms due to attenuation of the normal increase in sympathoadrenal, largely sympathetic neural, activity. The concept of hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure (HAAF) in diabetes posits that recent antecedent hypoglycemia (or sleep or prior exercise) causes both defective glucose counterregulation (by attenuating the epinephrine response in the setting of absent insulin and glucagon responses) and impaired awareness of hypoglycemia (by attenuating sympathoadrenal and the resulting symptomatic responses) and thus a vicious cycle of recurrent hypoglycemia.

Although additional intraislet mechanisms may be involved, it is reasonable to attribute both loss of the insulin and of the glucagon responses to hypoglycemia, the prerequisites to HAAF, to β-cell failure. Insulin normally restrains glucagon secretion and a decrease in insulin normally stimulates glucagon secretion during hypoglycemia. In the setting of absolute endogenous insulin deficiency—β-cell failure—there is …

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