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Hypertension. 1992 Jun;19(6 Pt 2):621-7.

Insulin increases sympathetic activity but not blood pressure in borderline hypertensive humans.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesia, College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242.


We have previously demonstrated that physiological hyperinsulinemia in normotensive humans increases sympathetic nerve activity but not arterial pressure since it also causes skeletal muscle vasodilation. However, in the presence of insulin resistance and/or hypertension, insulin may cause exaggerated sympathetic activation or impaired vasodilation and thus elevate arterial pressure. This study sought to determine if insulin causes a pressor response in borderline hypertensive humans by producing exaggerated increases in sympathetic neural outflow or impaired vasodilation. We recorded muscle sympathetic nerve activity (microneurography, peroneal nerve), forearm blood flow, heart rate, and blood pressure in 13 borderline hypertensive subjects during a 1-hour insulin infusion (38 microunits/m2/min) while holding blood glucose constant. Plasma insulin rose from 12 +/- 3 microunits/ml (mean +/- SEM) during control to 73 +/- 7 microunits/ml during insulin infusion and fell to 9 +/- 2 microunits/ml 2 hours after insulin infusion was stopped. Muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which averaged 25 +/- 2 bursts per minute in control, increased significantly during insulin infusion (+9 bursts per minute) and remained elevated 1.5 hours into recovery (+7 bursts per minute, p less than 0.001). Despite increased muscle sympathetic nerve activity, there were significant (p less than 0.001) increases in forearm blood flow and decreases in forearm vascular resistance during insulin infusion. Further, systolic and diastolic pressures fell approximately 3 and 6 mm Hg, respectively, during insulin infusion (p less than 0.01). This study suggests that acute physiological increases in plasma insulin elevate sympathetic neural outflow in borderline hypertensive humans but produce vasodilation and do not elevate arterial pressure.

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