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Diabetes as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease: insulin signalling impairment in the brain as an alternative model of Alzheimer’s disease

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>08/2011
<mark>Journal</mark>Biochemical Society Transactions
Issue number4
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)891-897
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


Surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms that trigger the onset of AD (Alzheimer's disease) in sporadic forms. A number of risk factors have been identified that may shed light on the mechanisms that may trigger or facilitate the development of AD. Recently, T2DM (Type 2 diabetes mellitus) has been identified as a risk factor for AD. A common observation for both conditions is the desensitization of insulin receptors in the brain. Insulin acts as a growth factor in the brain and is neuroprotective, activates dendritic sprouting, regeneration and stem cell proliferation. The impairment of this important growth factor signal may facilitate the development of AD. Insulin as well as other growth factors have shown neuroprotective properties in preclinical and clinical trials. Several drugs have been developed to treat T2DM, which re-sensitize insulin receptors and may be of use to prevent neurodegenerative processes in the brain. In particular, the incretins GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) and GIP (glucose-dependent insolinotropic polypeptide) are hormones that re-sensitize insulin signalling. Incretins also have similar growth-factor-like properties as insulin and are neuroprotective. In mouse models of AD, GLP-1 receptor agonists reduce amyloid plaque formation, reduce the inflammation response in the brain, protect neurons from oxidative stress, induce neurite outgrowth, and protect synaptic plasticity and memory formation from the detrimental effects caused by β-amyloid production and inflammation. Other growth factors such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), NGF (nerve growth factor) or IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) also have shown a range of neuroprotective properties in preclinical studies. These results show that these growth factors activate similar cell signalling mechanisms that are protective and regenerative, and suggest that the initial process that may trigger the cascade of neurodegenerative events in AD could be the impairment of growth factor signalling such as early insulin receptor desensitization.