Hypoglycemia stimulates immunoreactive glucagon (IRG) secretion and increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. To ascertain if the augmented alpha cell activity evoked by glucopenia is mediated by the adrenergic nervous system, the glucagon response to insulin induced hypoglycemia of five subjects with neurologically complete cervical transections resulting from trauma, thereby disrupting their hypothalamic sympathetic outflow, was compared to six healthy volunteers. In addition to clinical neurological evaluation, completeness of sympathectomy was verified by failure to raise plasma norepinephrine levels during hypoglycemia compared to the two to threefold increase observed in controls. Total IRG response (IRG area above basal 0-90 min) and peak IRG levels achieved were the same in the quadriplegics and the controls. Although the glucagon rise tended to be slower, and the peak levels attained occurred later in the quadriplegic patients than in the controls, this response was appropriate for their sugar decline, which was slower and reached the nadir later than in the control subjects. These observations that the glucagon release during insulin induced hypoglycemia is normal in subjects whose hypothalamic sympathetic outflow has been interrupted provide strong evidence that the sympathetic nervous system does not mediate the glucagon response to hypoglycemia.
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