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Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Dec;16(Suppl 3):S601-10. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.105578.

Insulin and insulin-like growth factor prevent brain atrophy and cognitive impairment in diabetic rats.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


There are an estimated 36 million dementia patients worldwide. The anticipated tripling of this number by year 2050 will negatively impact the capacity to deliver quality health care. The epidemic in diabetes is particularly troubling, because diabetes is a substantial risk factor for dementia independently of cerebrovascular disease. There is an urgent need to elucidate the pathogenesis of progressive brain atrophy, the cause of dementia, to allow rational design of new therapeutic interventions. This review summarizes recent tests of the hypothesis that the concomitant loss of insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) is the dominant cause for age-dependent, progressive brain atrophy with degeneration and cognitive decline. These tests are the first to show that insulin and IGFs regulate adult brain mass by maintaining brain protein content. Insulin and IGF levels are reduced in diabetes, and replacement of both ligands can prevent loss of total brain protein, widespread cell degeneration, and demyelination. IGF alone prevents retinal degeneration in diabetic rats. It supports synapses and is required for learning and memory. Replacement doses in diabetic rats can cross the blood-brain barrier to prevent hippocampus-dependent memory impairment. Insulin and IGFs are protective despite unabated hyperglycemia in diabetic rats, severely restricting hyperglycemia and its consequences as dominant pathogenic causes of brain atrophy and impaired cognition. These findings have important implications for late-onset alzheimer's disease (LOAD) where diabetes is a major risk factor, and concomitant decline in insulin and IGF activity suggest a similar pathogenesis for brain atrophy and dementia.


Alzheimer's disease; Diabetes mellitus; brain atrophy; cognitive impairment; insulin; insulin-like growth factors

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