Efficacy of salicylic acid as a treatment for diabetes was first established well over a century ago. Antihyperglycaemic effects are thought to include improved peripheral insulin sensitivity and suppression of hepatic glucose production. For most of this period, the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects have been poorly understood and these are still a focus of considerable research, which is reviewed here. Antihyperglycaemic effects are observed only at much higher concentrations than analgesic, antipyretic and antithrombotic properties, suggesting that different targets underlie the antidiabetic aspects of salicylate pharmacology. In the 1950s, antihyperglycaemic responses were linked to mitochondrial uncoupling effects of the drug. Then at the beginning of this century, antihyperglycaemic effects were linked to anti-inflammatory effects of the drug on NF-κB signalling. More recently, new work suggests that direct activation of AMPK may contribute to antihyperglycaemic/antihyperlipidemic actions of salicylates. Better understanding of the mechanism of salicylate’s anthyperglycaemic effects may ultimately accelerate the development of new drugs for human use.
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