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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 May;1792(5):432-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2008.12.003. Epub 2008 Dec 16.

(Pre)diabetes, brain aging, and cognition.

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Division of Geriatrics, Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of São Paulo-RP, Brazil.


Cognitive dysfunction and dementia have recently been proven to be common (and underrecognized) complications of diabetes mellitus (DM). In fact, several studies have evidenced that phenotypes associated with obesity and/or alterations on insulin homeostasis are at increased risk for developing cognitive decline and dementia, including not only vascular dementia, but also Alzheimer's disease (AD). These phenotypes include prediabetes, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome. Both types 1 and 2 diabetes are also important risk factors for decreased performance in several neuropsychological functions. Chronic hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia primarily stimulates the formation of Advanced Glucose Endproducts (AGEs), which leads to an overproduction of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Protein glycation and increased oxidative stress are the two main mechanisms involved in biological aging, both being also probably related to the etiopathogeny of AD. AD patients were found to have lower than normal cerebrospinal fluid levels of insulin. Besides its traditional glucoregulatory importance, insulin has significant neurothrophic properties in the brain. How can clinical hyperinsulinism be a risk factor for AD whereas lab experiments evidence insulin to be an important neurothrophic factor? These two apparent paradoxal findings may be reconciliated by evoking the concept of insulin resistance. Whereas insulin is clearly neurothrophic at moderate concentrations, too much insulin in the brain may be associated with reduced amyloid-beta (Abeta) clearance due to competition for their common and main depurative mechanism - the Insulin-Degrading Enzyme (IDE). Since IDE is much more selective for insulin than for Abeta, brain hyperinsulinism may deprive Abeta of its main clearance mechanism. Hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia seems to accelerate brain aging also by inducing tau hyperphosphorylation and amyloid oligomerization, as well as by leading to widespread brain microangiopathy. In fact, diabetes subjects are more prone to develop extense and earlier-than-usual leukoaraiosis (White Matter High-Intensity Lesions - WMHL). WMHL are usually present at different degrees in brain scans of elderly people. People with more advanced WMHL are at increased risk for executive dysfunction, cognitive impairment and dementia. Clinical phenotypes associated with insulin resistance possibly represent true clinical models for brain and systemic aging.

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