Can Insulin Protect the Brain from Alzheimer's Disease?

Researchers reported their findings about using insulin to treat Alzheimer's disease.

There has been a lot of news lately regarding the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. An article discussing the relationship between these disease states was posted to HCPLive last week, “Developing Diabetes before Age 65 Increases Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Recently, researchers from Northwestern University and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil reported their results about using insulin to treat AD.

The investigators reported that “insulin, by shielding memory-forming synapses from harm, may slow or prevent the damage and memory loss caused by toxic proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.” They came to this conclusion after studying the effect insulin and a diabetes drug had on neurons taken from the hippocampus of a brain. This combination blocked amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs)—“known to attack memory-forming synapses”—from attaching to the neurons. These results add further evidence to the idea that AD might be a third type of diabetes.

Senior author William L. Klein, professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and researcher at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center said, “Sensitivity to insulin can decline with aging, which presents a novel risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease… [and] our results demonstrate that bolstering insulin signaling can protect neurons from harm.”

Both lead author Fernanda G. De Felice, associate professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, and Sergio T. Ferreira, professor of biochemistry in Rio de Janerio, offered the same point of view, saying that this discovery will potentially lead to new treatments for AD.

The researchers have also “suggested this could be the mechanism that decides whether a person develops Alzheimer’s.”

Related Resources:

  • Insulin for Alzheimer’s Disease Video
  • Protection of Synapses against Alzheimer’s-linked Toxins: Insulin Signaling Prevents the Pathogenic Binding of Aß Oligomers
  • The Role of Insulin in the Development of Alzheimer’s Disease

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