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Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2011 Jun;108(6):365-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2011.00699.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.

α2-adrenoceptor regulation of blood glucose homeostasis.

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Turku PET Centre, University of Turku, Finland.


The α(2A)-adrenoceptor has been identified as an important regulator of blood glucose homeostasis. α(2A)-Adrenoceptors on pancreatic β-cells inhibit insulin secretion, and α(2A)-adrenoceptors on sympathetic nerves and on adrenomedullary chromaffin cells limit sympathoadrenal output. Recently, human α(2A)-adrenoceptor gene polymorphisms that influence α(2A)-adrenoceptor expression and function have been described. Increased α(2A)-adrenoceptor expression has been associated with impaired glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, elevated fasting blood glucose levels and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Accordingly, administration of α(2)-adrenoceptor agonists generally increases blood glucose levels, in spite of the ensuing sympatholysis that would be expected to lower blood glucose as a result of diminished α(1)- and β-adrenoceptor activation. α(2)-Adrenoceptor antagonists increase insulin secretion and reduce blood glucose levels by inhibiting tonically active α(2A)-adrenoceptors on pancreatic β-cells, but may also enhance sympathoadrenal output. In addition, α(2)-adrenoceptor antagonists potentiate the insulinotropic effect of sulphonylurea drugs, pointing to a potentially serious adverse drug interaction when the two classes of drugs are combined. The α(2)-adrenoceptor antagonist atipamezole is widely used in veterinary medicine, and sulphonylureas are prescribed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in cats and dogs. Even if no dedicated α(2)-adrenoceptor antagonists are in clinical use in humans, some antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs are relatively potent α(2)-adrenoceptor antagonists. In the treatment of type 2 diabetes, α(2)-adrenoceptor agonists could possibly protect against sulphonylurea-induced hypoglycaemia, and α(2)-adrenoceptor antagonist drugs could improve insulin secretion. The potential usefulness of such drugs may vary between individuals, depending on α(2A)-adrenoceptor genetics, sympathetic tone and concomitant pathological conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.

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