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Logo of jcinvestThe Journal of Clinical InvestigationCurrent IssueArchiveSubscriptionAbout the Journal
J Clin Invest. Aug 1988; 82(2): 436–444.
PMCID: PMC303532

Modest decrements in plasma glucose concentration cause early impairment in cognitive function and later activation of glucose counterregulation in the absence of hypoglycemic symptoms in normal man.


To establish the glycemic threshold for onset of neuroglycopenia (impaired cognitive function, measured by the latency of the P300 wave), activation of hormonal counterregulation and hypoglycemic symptoms, 12 normal subjects were studied either under conditions of insulin-induced, glucose-controlled plasma glucose decrements, or during maintenance of euglycemia. A decrement in plasma glucose concentration from 88 +/- 3 to 80 +/- 1 mg/dl for 150 min did not result in changes in the latency of the P300 wave nor in an activation of counterregulatory hormonal response. In contrast, a greater decrement in plasma glucose concentration from 87 +/- 3 to 72 +/- 1 mg/dl for 120 min caused an increase in the latency of the P300 wave (from 301 +/- 12 to 348 +/- 20 ms, P less than 0.01), a subsequent increase in all counterregulatory hormones but no hypoglycemic symptoms. Finally, when plasma glucose concentration was decreased in a stepwise manner from 88 +/- 2 to 50 +/- 1 mg/dl within 75 min, the increase in the latency of the P300 wave was correlated with the corresponding plasma glucose concentration (r = -0.76, P less than 0.001). The glycemic threshold for hypoglycemic symptoms was 49 +/- 2 mg/dl. Thus, in normal man the glycemic threshold for neuroglycopenia (72 +/- 1 mg/dl) is greater than currently thought; the hormonal counterregulation follows the onset of neuroglycopenia; the hypoglycemic symptoms are a late indicator of advanced neuroglycopenia.

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