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Metabolism. 1995 Mar;44(3):281-6.

Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia in homozygous beta-thalassemia.

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Institutes of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Turin, Italy.


Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia have been reported in homozygous beta-thalassemia before the development of diabetes. However, insulin sensitivity (SI) has never been studied in normoinsulinemic patients. Furthermore, whether hyperinsulinemia is due to increased beta-cell secretion or to decreased hepatic insulin extraction is poorly understood. We estimated SI, beta-cell secretion, and hepatic insulin extraction using the minimal model analysis of a frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test (2.8 g/m2) in two groups of nondiabetic pubertal patients with homozygous beta-thalassemia (seven hyperinsulinemic and seven normoinsulinemic patients) and seven control subjects matched for age, body mass index, and pubertal stage. In both thalassemic groups, SI was reduced by approximately 40% (3.52 +/- 0.57 and 3.74 +/- 0.66 v 6.89 +/- 1.02 10(-4).min-1 [microU/mL], P = .011) and was inversely correlated with iron overload (r = -.707, P = .006). All parameters of beta-cell secretion were not significantly different in patients and controls. On the other hand, basal posthepatic insulin delivery (BDR) was more than doubled in hyperinsulinemic patients with respect to normoinsulinemic patients or controls (15.1 +/- 2.4 v 6.1 +/- 1.1 and 7.5 +/- 2.3 pmol/L.min-1, P = .012), and the same was true for total posthepatic insulin delivery ([TID] 6.3 +/- 1.0 v 2.9 +/- 0.5 and 2.9 +/- 0.7 pmol/L.240 min-1, P = .015). Hepatic insulin extraction was significantly lower in hyperinsulinemic patients than in normoinsulinemic patients or controls (49.3% +/- 9.4% v 73.0% +/- 3.7% and 77.4% +/- 3.9%, P = .011), and in patients it was inversely correlated with iron overload (r = -.829, P = .0001). In conclusion, insulin resistance is present even in normoinsulinemic patients, beta-cell responsiveness to glucose is normal, and hyperinsulinemia is mainly due to decreased hepatic insulin extraction. In nondiabetic thalassemic patients, these defects are possibly related to iron overload.

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