Insulin Action in the Vasculature: Physiology and Pathophysiology

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Studies to date have provided convincing evidence that insulin has an important role in the normal functioning of the vasculature from the perspective of the regulated delivery of nutrients to a tissue bed. This is mediated by an effect on the endothelium analogous to other endothelial responses, and insulin resistance is reflected in, and in part due to, impaired vasodilatory actions of insulin. Because insulin normally stimulates the net production of nitric oxide, which is beneficial in both the short term for vasomotion and antithrombosis, and the long term for inhibition of smooth muscle cell growth and migration, vascular insulin resistance also has important implications for vascular pathophysiology. Further, recent evidence suggests that the hyperinsulinemia accompanying insulin resistance may aggravate this situation by augmenting the endothelial production and release of endothelin-1. The investigation of insulin resistance in the vasculature provides not only a unique and physiologically relevant window onto vascular pathology, but also an opportunity for therapeutic targeting in individuals affected by the clinical states of insulin resistance. The present review highlights the importance of insulin sensitivity in the maintenance of endothelial function and explores the relationships between vascular insulin resistance and whole body glucose disposal. In addition, the recent evidence linking insulin to endothelin-1 production is discussed. Improving insulin sensitivity with insulin sensitizers such as rosiglitazone may represent an important advance in our ability to improve vascular dysfunction in diabetes.

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