Insulin resistance, inflammation, and cognition in Alzheimer's Disease: lessons for multiple sclerosis

J Neurol Sci. 2006 Jun 15;245(1-2):21-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2005.08.017. Epub 2006 Apr 24.


Insulin resistance (reduced ability of insulin to stimulate glucose utilization) is common in North American and Europe, where as many as one third of all older adults suffer from prodromal or clinical type 2 diabetes mellitus. It has long been known that insulin-resistant conditions adversely affect general health status. A growing body of findings suggests that insulin contributes to normal brain functioning and that peripheral insulin abnormalities increase the risk for memory loss and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Potential mechanisms for these effects include insulin's role in cerebral glucose metabolism, peptide regulation, modulation of neurotransmitter levels, and modulation of many aspects of the inflammatory network. An intriguing question is whether insulin abnormalities also influence the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder characterized by elevated inflammatory biomarkers, central nervous system white matter lesions, axonal degeneration, and cognitive impairment. MS increases the risk for type 1 diabetes mellitus. Furthermore, the lack of association between MS and type 2 diabetes may suggest that insulin resistance affects patients with MS and the general population at the same alarming rate. Therefore, insulin resistance may exacerbate phenomena that are common to MS and insulin-resistant conditions, such as cognitive impairments and elevated inflammatory responses. Interestingly, the thiazolidinediones, which are used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, have been proposed as potential therapeutic agents for both Alzheimer's disease and MS. The agents improve insulin sensitivity, reduce hyperinsulinemia, and exert anti-inflammatory actions. Ongoing studies will determine whether thiazolidinediones improve cognitive functioning for patients with type 2 diabetes or Alzheimer's disease. Future studies are needed to examine the effects of thiazolidinediones on patients with MS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology*