Direct Link between Insulin Resistance in the Brain and Behavioral Disorders

Posted on March 3, 2015

Photo: flickr

People with diabetes are more prone to anxiety and depression than those with other chronic diseases that require similar levels of management. The reasons for this aren't well understood, but Joslin Diabetes Center researchers have discovered one potential explanation.

Genetically modifying mice to make their brains resistant to insulin, the Joslin scientists first found that the animals exhibited behaviors that suggest anxiety and depression, and then pinpointed a mechanism that lowers levels of the key neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain associated with those conditions.

"This is one of the first studies that directly shows that insulin resistance in the brain actually can produce a behavioral change," says C. Ronald Kahn, MD, who is Joslin's Chief Academic Officer and the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior author on a paper reporting the work in the journal PNAS.

"Preliminary studies have shown that treating people with Alzheimer's disease with insulin inhaled through the nose, which is supposed to allow more insulin to get delivered directly to the brain, might slow their changes in cognitive function," he adds. "It's obviously too early to tell, because we're looking at very early-stage research, but one could imagine that intranasal insulin might actually have some effects in anti-depression or anti-anxiety in people with diabetes."

Source material from Joslin Diabetes Center

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