Diabetes, steroids and hypoglycemia

Following alloxan induction of diabetes, rats overexpress glucocorticoids. This in turn depletes the mast cell populations in the skin, lungs and intestines. Glucocorticoids interfere with production and expression of tissue cytokines and stem cell factor, a growth factor for mast cells.

Several experiments have definitively proven that these steroids are responsible for downregulating mast cell growth and activity. Treating diabetic rats with the steroid receptor blocker RU486 or removing adrenal glands on both sides of the animal causes an increase in intestinal mast cell numbers and IgE formation.

The mechanism by which steroids confer these effects is thought to involve insulin. Glucocorticoids inhibit secretion of insulin in the pancreas. In turn, insulin release decreases systemic glucocorticoids. Additionally, insulin also activates mast cell signaling pathways. In the presence of insulin, antigen induced mast cell degranulation and survival is upregulated. In diabetic rats, administration of insulin recruits mast cells and increases response to antigen. Insulin treatment can reverse the reductions in mast cell populations, histamine production and IgE release seen following alloxan administration.

Increased activity of the HPA axis is often seen in type I and II diabetics, resulting in elevated cortisol. One study showed that appropriate activity can be restored with insulin treatment. This is achieved by a complex mechanism in which expression of glucocorticoid receptor mRNA is elevated in the pituitary, facilitating glucocorticoids to suppress expression of ACTH release.

 

Can hypoglycemia cause mast cell degranulation?

Yes. Activation of histamine 1 and 2 receptors as a result of insulin or hypoglycemia causes release of ACTH. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, which can also be induced after administration of insulin) normally increases ACTH levels in the blood. However, higher than normal histamine levels in the blood can interfere with the action of ACTH, which would normally address hypoglycemia via production of glucocorticoids. One study found that this effect can be mostly ameliorated by pretreating with antihistamines, though I suspect in mast cell patients, this may not achieve the full response seen in non-mast cell patients.

 

Can anaphylaxis cause hypoglycemia?

Yes. In instances of severe stress (emotional or physical), corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), neurotensin and substance P are released. Among other things, CRH can induce mast cell degranulation (of note, CRH does not directly induce histamine release via degranulation). CRH also causes increased expression of the IgE receptor on mast cells, which increases the likelihood of being stimulated and thus degranulation (this may cause histamine release). In tandem, neurotensin and substance P increases the expression of the CRHR-1 receptor for CRH on mast cells so that they are more sensitive to CRH. Likewise, neurotensin and substance P act on mast cells via receptors to induce degranulation (this causes histamine release). As a result of this degranulation, histamine and other mediators are present to inhibit the action of ACTH, which would otherwise increase blood sugar (via the production of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine).

 

References:

Carvalho V.F., Barreto E.O., Diaz B.L. et al. (2003) Systemic anaphylaxis is prevented in alloxan-diabetic rats by a mechanism dependent on glucocorticoids. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 472, 221–227.

Carvalho V.F., Barreto E.O., Cordeiro R.S. et al. (2005) Mast cell changes in experimental diabetes: focus on attenuation of allergic events. Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz 100(Suppl. 1), 121–125.

Foreman JC, Jordan CC, Piotrowski W. Interaction of neurotensin with the substance P receptor mediating histamine release from rat mast cells and the flare in human skin. Br J Pharmacol. 1982 Nov;77(3):531-9.

Meng, Fanyin, et al. Regulation of the Histamine/VEGF Axis by miR-125b during Cholestatic Liver Injury in Mice. The American Journal of Pathology, Volume 184, Issue 3, March 2014, Pages 662–673

Theoharides, T., et al. A probable case report of stress-induced anaphylaxis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol xxx (2013) 1e2

Kjaer A, et al. Insulin/hypoglycemia-induced adrenocorticotropin and beta-endorphin release: involvement of hypothalamic histaminergic neurons. Endocrinology. 1993 May;132(5):2213-20.

Carvalho V.F, et al. Reduced expression of IL-3 mediates intestinal mast cell depletion in diabetic rats: role of insulin and glucocorticoid hormones. Int. J. Exp. Path. (2009), 90, 148–155.

Carvalho V.F, et al. Suppression of Allergic Inflammatory Response in the Skin of Alloxan-Diabetic Rats: Relationship with Reduced Local Mast Cell Numbers. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2008;147:246–254.

Carvalho VF, Barreto EO, Diaz BL, Serra MF, Azevedo V, Cordeiro RS, et al: Systemic anaphylaxis is prevented in alloxan-diabetic rats by a mechanism dependent on glucocorticoids. Eur J Pharmacol 2003; 472: 221–227.

S.C. Cavalher-Machado, et al. Down-regulation of mast cell activation and airway reactivity in diabetic rats: role of insulin. Eur Respir J 2004; 24: 552–558.

2 Responses

  1. peggotty March 19, 2015 / 9:07 am

    This is very interesting, Lisa. Do you know how this would affect the development of Cushing’s syndrome? I have had environmental allergies for most of my life. About 12 years ago I developed symptoms of Cushing’s, and finally an adrenal tumor was discovered. Since the removal the tumor and gland in 2012, my allergies have worsened exponentially, and my Cushing’s symptoms are very slowly returning. I have a new immunologist, but so far he has not mentioned any connection.
    Thanks for this post!

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