1. The effect of hyperketonaemia on counter-regulatory hormone responses to hypoglycaemia has been examined in six healthy subjects.
2. A controlled, step-wise reduction in blood glucose concentration was achieved by adjusting the rate of glucose infusion during a primed-continuous infusion of soluble insulin (1.5 m-units min−1 kg−1 body weight, plasma insulin concentration approximately 90 m-units/l). Simultaneous infusion of either saline or β-hydroxybutyrate (3 mg min−1 kg−1 body weight) was administered in a single-blind fashion, in random order. Despite a need for 40% more glucose during the ketone infusion, an identical fall in blood glucose concentration was achieved in each study.
3. The glycaemic threshold for stimulating an adrenaline response of 0.41 nmol/l was reduced from 3.1 to 2.8 mmol/l (P < 0.05) during ketone infusion, and that for stimulating a response of more than 50% of basal from 3.6 to 3.1 mmol/l (P < 0.001). The peak adrenaline response fell from 7.97 to 2.6 nmol/l (P < 0.04). Peak noradrenaline, cortisol and growth hormone responses were also significantly lower during ketone infusion (P = 0.04, 0.001 and 0.006, respectively). Glucagon responses alone were unaffected by hyperketonaemia.
4. The provision of an alternate metabolic fuel thus produced immediate changes in the neurohumoral responses to hypoglycaemia. This is consistent with the hypothesis that human nervous tissue can metabolize ketones acutely.