Objective: The linkage among the tissue iron stores, insulin resistance (IR), and cognition remains unclear in the obese population. We aimed to identify the factors that contribute to increased hepatic iron concentration (HIC) and brain iron overload (BIO), as evaluated by MRI, and to evaluate their impact on cognitive performance in obese and nonobese subjects.
Research design and methods: We prospectively recruited 23 middle-aged obese subjects without diabetes (13 women; age 50.4 ± 7.7 years; BMI 43.7 ± 4.48 kg/m2) and 20 healthy nonobese volunteers (10 women; age 48.8 ± 9.5 years; BMI 24.3 ± 3.54 kg/m2) in whom iron load was assessed in white and gray matter and the liver by MRI. IR was measured from HOMA-IR and an oral glucose tolerance test. A battery of neuropsychological tests was used to evaluate the cognitive performance. Multivariate regression analysis was used to identify the independent associations of BIO and cognitive performance.
Results: A significant increase in iron load was detected at the caudate nucleus (P < 0.001), lenticular nucleus (P = 0.004), hypothalamus (P = 0.002), hippocampus (P < 0.001), and liver (P < 0.001) in obese subjects. There was a positive correlation between HIC and BIO at caudate (r = 0.517, P < 0.001), hypothalamus (r = 0.396, P = 0.009), and hippocampus (r = 0.347, P < 0.023). The area under the curve of insulin was independently associated with BIO at the caudate (P = 0.001), hippocampus (P = 0.028), and HIC (P = 0.025). BIOs at the caudate (P = 0.028), hypothalamus (P = 0.006), and lenticular nucleus (P = 0.012) were independently associated with worse cognitive performance.
Conclusions: Obesity and IR may contribute to increased HIC and BIO being associated with worse cognitive performance. BIO could be a potentially useful MRI biomarker for IR and obesity-associated cognitive dysfunction.
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