Insulin, IGF-1 and GLP-1 signaling in neurodegenerative disorders: targets for disease modification?

Prog Neurobiol. 2014 Jul;118:1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2014.02.005. Epub 2014 Feb 28.


Insulin and Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) play a major role in body homeostasis and glucose regulation. They also have paracrine/autocrine functions in the brain. The Insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway contributes to the control of neuronal excitability, nerve cell metabolism and cell survival. Glucagon like peptide-1 (GLP-1), known as an insulinotropic hormone has similar functions and growth like properties as insulin/IGF-1. Growing evidence suggests that dysfunction of these pathways contribute to the progressive loss of neurons in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), the two most frequent neurodegenerative disorders. These findings have led to numerous studies in preclinical models of neurodegenerative disorders targeting insulin/IGF-1 and GLP-1 signaling with currently available anti-diabetics. These studies have shown that administration of insulin, IGF-1 and GLP-1 agonists reverses signaling abnormalities and has positive effects on surrogate markers of neurodegeneration and behavioral outcomes. Several proof-of-concept studies are underway that attempt to translate the encouraging preclinical results to patients suffering from AD and PD. In the first part of this review, we discuss physiological functions of insulin/IGF-1 and GLP-1 signaling pathways including downstream targets and receptors distribution within the brain. In the second part, we undertake a comprehensive overview of preclinical studies targeting insulin/IGF-1 or GLP-1 signaling for treating AD and PD. We then detail the design of clinical trials that have used anti-diabetics for treating AD and PD patients. We close with future considerations that treat relevant issues for successful translation of these encouraging preclinical results into treatments for patients with AD and PD.

Keywords: Alzheimer's Disease; Clinical studies; IGF-1; Incretins; Insulin; Synucleinopathies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / metabolism
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*


  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4