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Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2000 Nov;279(5):E1054-63.

Differential gender responses to hypoglycemia are due to alterations in CNS drive and not glycemic thresholds.

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Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee 37232, USA.


The aims of this study were 1) to determine whether differential glycemic thresholds are the mechanism responsible for the sexual dimorphism present in neuroendocrine responses during hypoglycemia and 2) to define the differences in counterregulatory physiological responses that occur over a range of mild to moderate hypoglycemia in healthy men and women. Fifteen (8 male, 7 female) lean healthy adults underwent four separate randomized 2-h hyperinsulinemic (1.5 mU. kg(-1).min(-1)) glucose clamp studies at euglycemia (90 mg/dl) or hypoglycemia of 70, 60, or 50 mg/dl. Plasma insulin levels were similar during euglycemic and hypoglycemic studies (91-96 +/- 8 microU/ml) in men and women. Hypoglycemia of 70, 60, and 50 mg/dl all resulted in significant increases (P < 0.05, P < 0.01) in epinephrine, glucagon, growth hormone, cortisol, and pancreatic polypeptide levels compared with euglycemic studies in men and women. Plasma norepinephrine levels were increased (P < 0.05) only relative to euglycemic studies at a hypoglycemia of 50 mg/dl. Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) increased significantly during hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic control studies. Further elevations of MSNA did not occur until hypoglycemia of 60 mg/dl in both men and women. Plasma epinephrine, glucagon, growth hormone, and pancreatic polypeptide were significantly increased in men compared with women during hypoglycemia of 70, 60, and 50 mg/dl. MSNA, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure responses were also significantly increased in men at hypoglycemia of 60 and 50 mg/dl. In summary, these studies have demonstrated that, in healthy men and women, the glycemic thresholds for activation of epinephrine, glucagon, growth hormone, cortisol, and pancreatic polypeptide occur between 70 and 79 mg/dl. Thresholds for activation of MSNA occur between 60 and 69 mg/dl, whereas norepinephrine is not activated until glycemia is between 50 and 59 mg/dl. We conclude that 1) differential glycemic thresholds are not the cause of the sexual dimorphism present in counterregulatory responses to hypoglycemia; 2) reduced central nervous system efferent input appears to be the mechanism responsible for lowered neuroendocrine responses to hypoglycemia in women; and 3) physiological counterregulatory responses (neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and autonomic nervous system) are reduced across a broad range of hypoglycemia in healthy women compared with healthy men.

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