Intranasal insulin improves memory in humans

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Nov;29(10):1326-34. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2004.04.003.


Previous studies have suggested an acutely improving effect of insulin on memory function. To study changes in memory associated with a prolonged increase in brain insulin activity in humans, here we used the intranasal route of insulin administration known to provide direct access of the substance to the cerebrospinal fluid compartment. Based on previous results indicating a prevalence of insulin receptors in limbic and hippocampal regions as well as improvements in memory with systemic insulin administration, we expected that intranasal administration of insulin improves primarily hippocampus dependent declaration memory function. Also, improvements in mood were expected. We investigated the effects of 8 weeks of intranasal administration of insulin (human regular insulin 4 x 40 IU/d) on declarative memory (immediate and delayed recall of word lists), attention (Stroop test), and mood in 38 healthy subjects (24 males) in a double blind, between-subject comparison. Blood glucose and plasma insulin levels did not differ between the placebo and insulin conditions. Delayed recall of words significantly improved after 8 weeks of intranasal insulin administration (words recalled, Placebo 2.92 +/- 1.00, Insulin 6.20 +/- 1.03, p < 0.05). Moreover, subjects after insulin reported signs of enhanced mood, such as reduced anger (p < 0.02) and enhanced self-confidence (p < 0.03). Results indicate a direct action of prolonged intranasal administration of insulin on brain functions, improving memory and mood in the absence of systemic side effects. These findings could be of relevance for the treatment of patients with memory disorders like in Alzheimer's disease.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Insulin / administration & dosage
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Factors
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*


  • Insulin