Insulin resistance for glucose metabolism in skeletal muscle is a key feature in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Which cellular effectors of glucose metabolism are involved is still unknown. We investigated whether transmembrane glucose transport in vivo is impaired in skeletal muscle in nonobese NIDDM patients. We performed euglycemic insulin clamp studies in combination with the forearm balance technique (brachial artery and deep forearm vein catheterization) in six nonobese NIDDM patients and five age- and weight-matched controls. Unlabeled D-mannitol (a nontransportable molecule) and radioactive 3-O-methyl-D-glucose (the reference molecular probe to assess glucose transport activity) were simultaneously injected into the brachial artery, and the washout curves were measured in the deep venous effluent blood. In vivo transmembrane transport of 3-O-methyl-D-glucose in forearm muscle was determined by computerized analysis of the washout curves. At similar steady-state plasma concentrations of insulin (approximately 500 pmol/liter) and glucose (approximately 5.15 mmol/liter), transmembrane inward transport of 3-O-methyl-D-glucose in skeletal muscle was markedly reduced in the NIDDM patients (6.5 x 10(-2) +/- 0.56 x 10(-2).min-1) compared with controls (12.5 x 10(-2) +/- 1.5 x 10(-2).min-1, P < 0.005). Mean glucose uptake was also reduced in the diabetics both at the whole body level (9.25 +/- 1.84 vs. 28.3 +/- 2.44 mumol/min per kg, P < 0.02) and in the forearm tissues (5.84 +/- 1.51 vs. 37.5 +/- 7.95 mumol/min per kg, P < 0.02). When the latter rates were extrapolated to the whole body level, skeletal muscle accounted for approximately 80% of the defect in insulin action seen in NIDDM patients. We conclude that transmembrane glucose transport, when assessed in vivo in skeletal muscle, is insensitive to insulin in nonobese NIDDM patients, and plays a major role in determining whole body insulin resistance.
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