The brain is a major target of circulating insulin. Enhancing central nervous insulin action has been shown to improve memory functions in animals as well as in humans, benefitting in particular hippocampus-dependent (declarative) memory. As Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with reduced central nervous insulin signaling and attenuated permeation of blood-borne insulin across the blood-brain-barrier, the cognitive decline in AD patients may at least in part be derived from impaired brain insulin signaling. Thus, therapeutic strategies to overcome central nervous system insulin deficiency and resistance might be an attractive option in the treatment of cognitive impairments like AD. Insulin can be effectively delivered directly to the brain via the intranasal route that enables the hormone to bypass the blood-brain barrier and modulate central nervous functions. This review summarizes a series of studies demonstrating beneficial effects of intranasal insulin on memory functions both in healthy humans and in patients with cognitive impairments such as AD. These experiments in humans consistently indicate that enhancing brain insulin signaling by intranasal administration of the hormone improves hippocampus-dependent memory in the absence of adverse side effects. Considering that insulin also acts as a neuroprotective signal, up-regulating brain insulin levels by intranasal insulin administration appears to be a promising approach in the treatment and prevention of central nervous system insulin deficiency and resistance as found in AD.
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