Drugs for Diabetes Mellitus

Drugs for Diabetes Mellitus


Pancreatic Hormones

The hormones secreted by the endocrine pancreas are produced in clusters of cells called islets of Langerhans. These islets contain three major types of hormone-secreting cells. The alpha cells produce glucagon, the beta cells produce insulin and amylin, and the delta cells secrete somatostatin. Insulin promotes the uptake, usage, and storage of glucose and thereby lowers the plasma glucose concentration, whereas glucagon increases the hepatic glucose output and blood glucose concentration. Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) results from inadequate insulin secretion or insulin activity that is not sufficient to maintain normal blood glucose concentrations.


As shown in Box 35-1, proinsulin is converted to insulin and C peptide. Insulin consists of two peptide chains (the A chain and the B chain), which are linked by two disulfide (-S-S-) bridges. Although both insulin and C peptide are released in response to rising glucose concentrations, the physiologic role of C peptide remains unknown.

Box 35-1   Structures of Proinsulin and Insulin Molecules

Preproinsulin is synthesized in the rough endoplasmic reticulum of pancreatic beta cells, and proinsulin is formed by enzymatic cleavage of this precursor molecule. Proinsulin is then transported to the Golgi apparatus and converted to insulin and C peptide (connecting peptide) by the removal of four amino acids (dipeptide linkage). Insulin and C peptide are packaged in storage granules until released in equimolar amounts in response to rising glucose concentrations.

Insulin consists of a 21-amino-acid A chain and a 30-amino-acid B chain linked by two disulfide bridges.


Differences in the amino acid composition of insulins are shown in the following table.


Insulin secretion has meal-stimulated and basal components. Insulin release is activated by the rise in blood glucose concentration that follows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates (Fig. 35-1A and 35-1B). Insulin is released at the rate of 1 unit (U) per 10 g of dietary carbohydrate, and its level usually peaks within 1 hour of eating. Insulin promotes the uptake and storage of glucose and other ingested nutrients, and the postprandial (postmeal) plasma concentrations of both insulin and glucose return to preprandial (premeal) levels within 2 hours. Basal secretion, which usually ranges from 0.5 to 1 U of insulin per hour, serves to retard hepatic glucose output during the postabsorptive state.

Physiologic Effects

Insulin is sometimes referred to as the “storage hormone” because it promotes formation of glycogen, triglycerides, and protein while inhibiting their breakdown.

Insulin has several important actions on the liver, the organ that normally serves as the major source of blood glucose to supply the brain in the fasting state. The liver provides blood glucose through the processes of gluconeogenesis (the formation of glucose from amino acids) and glycogenolysis (the breakdown of glycogen). Insulin stimulates enzymes involved in glycogen synthesis while inhibiting glycogenolytic and gluconeogenic enzymes, thereby reducing glucose output by the liver.

Insulin promotes the uptake of glucose by skeletal muscle and adipose tissue by activating a glucose transporter in these tissues called GLUT4. Skeletal muscle and adipose tissue are dependent on insulin for glucose uptake, whereas the brain can use blood glucose in the absence of insulin. By promoting glucose uptake, insulin facilitates the metabolism of glucose to provide energy for skeletal muscle contraction, and it stimulates glycogen synthesis. In adipose tissue, insulin increases the conversion of glucose to fatty acids for storage as triglyceride. It also promotes the uptake and esterification of fatty acids and inhibits lipolysis (the conversion of triglyceride to fatty acids). In skeletal muscle, insulin inhibits protein catabolism and amino acid output.

Diabetes Mellitus


Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is characterized by elevated basal and postprandial blood glucose concentrations. It affects about 25 million people in the United States and about 350 million worldwide. The two major forms of diabetes are type 1 and type 2, with the latter accounting for about 85% of cases of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes usually has its onset before 30 years of age, with a median onset of 12 years of age. It is believed to be an autoimmune disease that is triggered by a viral infection or other environmental factor. The resulting destruction of pancreatic beta cells leads to severe insulin deficiency and excessive production of ketones, causing ketonemia and ketoacidosis. Persons with type 1 diabetes require exogenous insulin for survival.

Type 2 diabetes (Box 35-2) is a heterogeneous disease that usually has its onset after the patient reaches 30 years of age and is often associated with a significant degree of insulin resistance and obesity. Insulin resistance can be caused by the presence of insulin antibodies or by defects in insulin receptors and signal transduction mechanisms in target organs. Patients with type 2 diabetes are less susceptible to developing ketonemia and ketoacidosis than are type 1 patients. Most patients with type 2 diabetes have normal or elevated concentrations of insulin and do not require exogenous insulin for survival. Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with oral antidiabetic medications in combination with dietary modifications and exercise, but some patients benefit from insulin treatment.

Box 35-2   A Case of Postprandial Hyperglycemia

Case Presentation

A 52-year-old man with an 8-year history of type 2 diabetes is concerned that his diabetes is not well controlled. He has started a regular exercise program and has lost 12 pounds. His A1c level is now 8.0%, down from 8.4% at the previous determination. He is already taking maximal doses of metformin and glipizide and has been taking insulin glargine every evening for the past 3 months. His self-monitored blood glucose values show that his fasting blood glucose (FBG) values are fairly good, but his postprandial glucose (PPG) values are often high after breakfast and lunch, ranging from 158 to 230 mg/dL (normal values are less than 140). His evening PPG values are usually acceptable. Based on these findings, his health care provider suggests that he reduce carbohydrate intake at breakfast and lunch or add a rapid-acting insulin preparation before these meals. After considering his diet and activity level, the man decides to use insulin aspart before breakfast and lunch and to adjust the dose based on PPG values.

Case Discussion

Self-monitored blood glucose (SMBG) is one of the most effective tools available to assist patients in achieving optimal glycemic control and target A1c levels. However, studies show that a large percentage of people with diabetes fail to follow recommended guidelines for SMBG. Obstacles to the effective use of SMBG include patient denial and unwillingness to adopt changes indicated by SMBG data, lack of patient confidence in their ability to use SMBG data, and the cost, inconvenience, and physical discomfort of SMBG. It is no surprise that patient education is the largest factor determining successful use of SMBG. Blood glucose monitors enable patients to obtain a record of glucose levels on which to base dietary and treatment decisions. Premeal and postmeal glucose values can be used to guide the selection and adjustment of insulin therapy. Rapid-acting insulins such as insulin aspart and insulin lispro can help patients control PPG levels, whereas long-acting insulins such as insulin glargine and insulin detemir can improve FBG values and overall glycemic control.

Additional forms of diabetes include gestational diabetes, which has its onset during pregnancy, and secondary diabetes, which occurs in association with other endocrine disorders or with exposure to drugs or chemical agents that are toxic to the pancreas.


The early manifestations of diabetes are metabolic abnormalities resulting from lack of insulin, whereas the long-term complications of diabetes result in part from nonenzymatic glycosylation of proteins, primarily in the cardiovascular system, leading to endothelial and cardiac dysfunction, atherosclerosis, and other problems. The percentage of glycosylated hemoglobin (hemoglobin A1c) is used as a clinical marker of long-term control of glycemia in individuals with diabetes.

The acute metabolic abnormalities that occur in untreated diabetes result from decreased glucose uptake by muscle and adipose tissue, increased hepatic output of glucose, increased catabolism of proteins in muscle tissue, and increased lipolysis and release of fatty acids from adipose tissue. A reduction in glucose use combined with an increase in hepatic glucose production leads to hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia can then cause glycosuria (glucose in the urine), osmotic diuresis, polyuria (excessive urine formation), and polydipsia (excessive water intake). These derangements lead to dehydration and the loss of calories and weight. For these reasons, diabetes has been described as “starvation in the midst of plenty.”

In patients with type 1 diabetes, the absence of insulin accelerates lipolysis, and this leads to increased production of ketones (acetoacetic acid, acetone, and β-hydroxybutyric acid) in the liver. When the body is no longer able to metabolize these ketones, the keto acids are excreted in the urine. These derangements can eventually lead to ketoacidosis, acetone breath, abnormal respiration, electrolyte depletion, vomiting, coma, and death. Insulin deficiency also leads to increased catabolism of proteins and increased loss of nitrogen in the urine.

The long-term complications of diabetes include microvascular complications, such as nephropathy and retinopathy; macrovascular complications, such as cerebrovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease; and neuropathic complications, such as sensory, motor, and autonomic neuropathic disorders.

Although all of the complications of diabetes contribute significantly to morbidity, the most prevalent cause of death is coronary artery disease. Patients with diabetes often develop hypertension and dyslipidemia, characterized by a decrease in the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level and an increase in the triglyceride level. Furthermore, diabetes appears to be a risk factor for coronary artery disease that is independent of other risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. For these reasons, patients with diabetes should exercise regularly, adhere closely to dietary guidelines, and comply with pharmacologic interventions to control hypertension and dyslipidemia and to achieve near-normal blood glucose concentrations.

Insulin Preparations

Insulin preparations are used to treat all patients with type 1 diabetes and about one third of patients with type 2 diabetes. Insulin is also used to treat pregnant women with gestational diabetes.

For many years, therapeutic insulin was obtained from pork and beef pancreas. More recently, human insulin has been produced by expression of the human insulin gene in Escherichia coli or yeast using recombinant DNA technology. Human insulin is less likely than pork or beef insulin to elicit insulin antibodies leading to insulin resistance, and it is less likely to cause allergic reactions or lipodystrophy at injection sites. The latest innovation in insulin therapy has been the development of human insulin analogues that overcome some of the limitations of native human insulin as a therapeutic agent. These analogues have improved pharmacokinetic properties and provide more physiologic insulin levels than do native insulin preparations. The insulin analogues are discussed later.

The concentration of insulin preparations is expressed as the number of units of insulin per milliliter of solution or suspension. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) defines 1 unit (U) as the amount of insulin needed to decrease the blood glucose concentration by a defined amount in a fasting rabbit. The insulin preparations used by most people with diabetes contain 100 U/mL. Regular insulin is also available in a concentrated preparation containing 500 U/mL for use by persons with insulin resistance who require more than 100 U as a single injection.

Administration and Absorption

Insulin is usually injected subcutaneously or is administered by continuous subcutaneous infusion with an insulin pump. Insulin preparations for inhalation are also available. Insulin absorption is most rapid from an abdominal injection site and is progressively slower from sites on the arm, thigh, and buttock. Because repeated injections at the same site can contribute to tissue reactions (lipodystrophy) that affect the rate of insulin absorption, patients should be taught to rotate injection sites within a particular anatomic area. Newer, silicone-covered needles are painless and have reduced patient aversion to insulin injections.

Based on their onset and duration of action, insulin preparations are classified as short-acting, rapid-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting (Table 35-1).

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Jul 23, 2016 | Posted by in PHARMACY | Comments Off on Drugs for Diabetes Mellitus

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