Metabolic Adaptations to Dexamethasone-Induced Insulin Resistance in Healthy Volunteers


Address correspondence to Prof. L. Tappy, Institut de physiologie, 7 rue du Bugnon, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


Objective: Insulin resistance is observed in individuals with normal glucose tolerance. This indicates that increased insulin secretion can compensate for insulin resistance and that additional defects are involved in impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes. The objective of this study was to evaluate a procedure aimed at assessing the compensatory mechanisms to insulin resistance.

Research Methods and Procedures: Eight healthy nonobese female patients were studied on two occasions, before and after administration of 2 mg/d dexamethasone for 2 days during a two-step hyperglycemic clamp. Insulin secretion was assessed from plasma insulin concentrations. Insulin sensitivity was assessed from the ratio of whole-body glucose use (6, 6 2H2 glucose) to plasma insulin concentrations. This procedure is known to induce a reversible impairment of glucose tolerance and insulin resistance.

Results: In all subjects, dexamethasone induced a decrease in insulin sensitivity and a proportionate increase in first-phase insulin secretion and in insulin concentrations at both steps of glycemia. The resulting hyperinsulinemia allowed the restoration of normal whole-body glucose uptake and the suppression of plasma free fatty acids and triglycerides. In contrast, the suppression of endogenous glucose production was impaired after dexamethasone (p < 0.01).

Discussion: Increased insulin secretion fully compensates dexamethasone-induced insulin resistance in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue but not in the liver. This suggests that failure to overcome hepatic insulin resistance can impair glucose tolerance. The compensatory insulin secretion in response to insulin resistance can be assessed by means of a hyperglycemic clamp after a dexamethasone challenge.