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Mol Neurodegener. 2009 Dec 24;4:54. doi: 10.1186/1750-1326-4-54.

Nitrosamine exposure exacerbates high fat diet-mediated type 2 diabetes mellitus, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and neurodegeneration with cognitive impairment.

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Department of Pathology (Neuropathology), Rhode Island Hospital, 593 Eddy Street, Providence, RI 02903 USA.



The current epidemics of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and Alzheimer's disease (AD) all represent insulin-resistance diseases. Previous studies linked insulin resistance diseases to high fat diets or exposure to streptozotocin, a nitrosamine-related compound that causes T2DM, NASH, and AD-type neurodegeneration. We hypothesize that low-level exposure to nitrosamines that are widely present in processed foods, amplifies the deleterious effects of high fat intake in promoting T2DM, NASH, and neurodegeneration.


Long Evans rat pups were treated with N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA) by i.p. Injection, and upon weaning, they were fed with high fat (60%; HFD) or low fat (5%; LFD) chow for 6 weeks. Rats were evaluated for cognitive impairment, insulin resistance, and neurodegeneration using behavioral, biochemical, molecular, and histological methods.


NDEA and HFD +/- NDEA caused T2DM, NASH, deficits in spatial learning, and neurodegeneration with hepatic and brain insulin and/or IGF resistance, and reductions in tau and choline acetyltransferase levels in the temporal lobe. In addition, pro-ceramide genes, which promote insulin resistance, were increased in livers and brains of rats exposed to NDEA, HFD, or both. In nearly all assays, the adverse effects of HFD+NDEA were worse than either treatment alone.


Environmental and food contaminant exposures to low, sub-mutagenic levels of nitrosamines, together with chronic HFD feeding, function synergistically to promote major insulin resistance diseases including T2DM, NASH, and AD-type neurodegeneration. Steps to minimize human exposure to nitrosamines and consumption of high-fat content foods are needed to quell these costly and devastating epidemics.

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