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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 47  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 227--229

A case of hypersensitivity to soluble and isophane insulins but not to insulin glargine

Mahesh N Belhekar1, Sarayu Pai1, Parimal Tayade2, Pradip Dalwadi2, Renuka Munshi1, Prema Varthakavi2,  
1 Department of Clinical Pharmacology, T. N. Medical College and B. Y. L. Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
2 Department of Endocrinology, T. N. Medical College and B. Y. L. Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Renuka Munshi
Department of Clinical Pharmacology, T. N. Medical College and B. Y. L. Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra


Insulin is an important agent for the treatment of diabetes mellitus (DM). Allergic reactions to insulin therapy, although rare, have been evident since animal insulin became available for the treatment of DM in 1922. Hypersensitivity to insulin has considerably been reduced with the introduction of human insulin produced by recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid technology. Here, we present a case of Type 2 DM who demonstrated immediate (Type 1) hypersensitivity reaction on the sites of subcutaneous injection of soluble and isophane insulin but insulin glargine was tolerated well and provided good glycemic control.

How to cite this article:
Belhekar MN, Pai S, Tayade P, Dalwadi P, Munshi R, Varthakavi P. A case of hypersensitivity to soluble and isophane insulins but not to insulin glargine.Indian J Pharmacol 2015;47:227-229

How to cite this URL:
Belhekar MN, Pai S, Tayade P, Dalwadi P, Munshi R, Varthakavi P. A case of hypersensitivity to soluble and isophane insulins but not to insulin glargine. Indian J Pharmacol [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Mar 1 ];47:227-229
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Insulin has been used for the treatment of diabetes mellitus (DM) since 1920. Earlier bovine and porcine insulin were available for human use. Allergic reactions to these types of insulin were frequent due to the differences in the amino acid sequences with human insulin. [1] At present, the prevalence of allergic reactions to insulin appears to be approximately 2% and less than one-third of these events have been considered related to the insulin itself. These reactions occur mainly due to the other substances present in the insulin preparation like additives and preservatives, including zinc, protamine and solvents such as meta-cresol, glycerol, phenol, sodium phosphate, etc. [2],[3]

The clinical presentation of insulin allergic reactions may differ from minor local symptoms to a severe generalized allergic reaction. These reactions can be Type I or immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated, Type III or arthus and Type IV or delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions. Type I reactions are the most common and can, rarely, cause anaphylaxis. [2],[3]

We present here a case where a patient, who developed an immediate hypersensitivity reaction to short and intermediate-acting insulin, but not to the long-acting form. Similar cases have been reported previously in Japanese and American [4],[5] patients but this is probably the first case to be reported in Indian patients.

 Case Report

A 41-year-old patient diagnosed with Type 2 DM in 2012, was admitted in the general surgery ward for complaints of pain in right lower limb since 1-week. She had a history of claudicating pain in the same limb associated with tingling and numbness since last 2 months. The patient had undergone left below knee amputation in 2007 due to acute arterial thrombosis. At that time, she was found to be allergic to pentoxyfylline and amoxicillin. In 2012, she was advised tablet metformin for the control of hyperglycemia, which she took for 1-year and thereafter had stopped. Other concomitant medications prescribed were; tablet atorvastatin 10 mg daily, tablet enalapril 2.5 mg daily, tablet glimepiride 4 mg daily, tablet aspirin 150 mg daily, tablet cilostazol 50 mg daily and tablet multivitamin B complex (single tablet twice daily). She did not give any family history of diabetes, allergic or autoimmune diseases. The color Doppler of her right lower limb was suggestive of severe aorto-arteritis/right femoral vein thrombosis.

On investigation, the patient was found to have high fasting (304 mg/dL; normal 80-110 mg/dL) and postprandial (410 mg/dL; normal up to 140 mg/dL) blood glucose. She was therefore advised to take subcutaneous injections of short-acting insulin (Actrapid [soluble insulin, Novo Nordisk, strength: 40 IU/mL]) the dose being 10 U each in the morning, afternoon and before dinner and intermediate-acting insulin (Wosulin N [Isophane Insulin, Wockhardt, strength: 40 IU/mL]) the dose being 12 U in the morning and 8 U at bedtime.

The patient developed immediate hypersensitivity reaction  to both these insulin preparations. The reaction started as erythema, rashes and itching all over the body immediately after insulin injections. She developed itching all over the body followed by erythema (redness). The next dose of insulin was administered under the supervision of the medical physician in order to ensure the correct method of administration however she developed reaction again. She was then given a different brand of soluble insulin but there was a recurrence of the reaction. Thus there is evidence of positive dechallenge and rechallenge, hence the causality can be certain as per WHO-UMC causality assessment scale. On local examination, we found erythematous rashes all over the body, especially on thigh, abdomen and forearm. The symptoms subsided after administration of injection pheniramine and topical application of calamine and liquid paraffin lotion. To maintain glycemic control, 2 days after admission, the patient was given long-acting, insulin glargine (single dose 30 U at night) (Basalog [insulin glargine, Biocon, strength: 100 IU/mL]) and she did not develop any hypersensitivity reaction. She tolerated the long-acting form well even when the dose was increased to 10 U in the morning and 30 U at night. She was also advised to take tablet voglibose 0.9 mg daily and achieved adequate glycemic control. The long-acting, insulin glargine was well tolerated and was also effective in achieving glycemic control.

Serum IgE was found 368 IU/ml (reference value in adults: up to 200 IU/ml). However, her insulin antibody test was found negative (observed value 2.34 U/ml; biological reference interval: <12 U/ml negative, 12-18 U/ml equivocal, >18 U/ml positive). Solid phase antinuclear antibodies (ANA) estimation was carried out and was found to be negative. The hypersensitivity to soluble insulin and isophane insulin developed immediately after the administration of the injection. Thus there is a temporal relationship between administration of the short acting insulin and hypersensitivity. The patient tolerated insulin glargine even when given daily for glycemic control. In this case temporality between administration of short acting and intermediate acting insulin and development of hypersensitivity reaction was evident and after stopping these two insulin preparations hypersensitivity reaction disappeared. Intradermal test with increasing doses of antigen (insulin) however was not attempted as the patient had vascular complications and had history of hypersensitivity to other drugs, amoxicillin and pentoxyfylline.


Though true insulin allergy is rare, allergic reaction to various components of the insulin preparations is more common. [3] Various additives such as meta-cresol, zinc or protamine, included in commercial insulin preparations, may be the responsible allergens and this possibility was not excluded in the present case. [6] The insulin allergy may be explained by presence of plenty of antigen presenting Langerhans cells in the epidermis which may augment presentation of antigenic components of the human insulin such as meta-cresol and phenol, which acting as haptens can mediate a localized immune response. [7]

Insulin glargine is favored due to its long half-life and low risk of hypoglycemic events. Insulin glargine is a clear solution having pH of 4. The long-acting form of insulin releases monomers slowly and hence does not elicit an immune response. It was ensured that the subcutaneous dose of insulin was injected appropriately to rule out any reaction due to incorrect dosing. [8] In addition, the epitopes of human insulin A-chain and animal insulin (AlaB 30 ) has been modified in insulin glargine. The tolerance of insulin glargine appeared to suppress the allergy to human regular insulin. [9]

The present case showed that, among several insulin preparations, short-acting and intermediate-acting insulin caused the hypersensitivity reactions, while long-acting insulin did not. Similar patients have been described in the literature. [4] Moreover, a review of the summary of product characteristics of various insulins used for this patient revealed similar additives in the three different forms. Hence, we hypothesize that the hypersensitivity is due to the human insulin per se rather than the additives. There are very few reports documenting hypersensitivity to pentoxyfylline and is mostly IgE mediated Type 1 reaction. [10]

As this patient was a known case of hypersensitivity to penicillin and pentoxyfylline, there must be circulating IgE antibodies to these drugs, which may have cross-reacted with soluble and Isophane insulin, but not with insulin glargine. On investigation for IgE antibodies, we found an increase in IgE antibodies in this patient. However, the test for antibodies to insulin was negative reinforcing the fact that the patient was hypersensitive to the drug product (formulation) and not drug substance per se Insulin glargine injection by virtue of its crystalline nature may have affected antigen presentation to the antibodies present on the surface of mast cells which elicit a Type 1 hypersensitivity reaction. Similar cases of hypersensitivity have been dealt with by using Insulin aspart and lispro. [5] These findings corroborate the allergenic potential of short-acting and long-acting insulin analogs of earlier studies. [11]


We could not test whether this patient was intra dermal test positive to human insulin or to any of the additives.


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