Insulin transport into the brain and cerebrospinal fluid

Vitam Horm. 2015;98:229-48. doi: 10.1016/bs.vh.2014.12.007. Epub 2015 Feb 18.


The pancreatic hormone insulin plays a well-described role in the periphery, based principally on its ability to lower circulating glucose levels via activation of glucose transporters. However, insulin also acts within the central nervous system (CNS) to alter a number of physiological outcomes ranging from energy balance and glucose homeostasis to cognitive performance. Insulin is transported into the CNS by a saturable receptor-mediated process that is proposed to be dependent on the insulin receptor. Transport of insulin into the brain is dependent on numerous factors including diet, glycemia, a diabetic state and notably, obesity. Obesity leads to a marked decrease in insulin transport from the periphery into the CNS and the biological basis of this reduction of transport remains unresolved. Despite decades of research into the effects of central insulin on a wide range of physiological functions and its transport from the periphery to the CNS, numerous questions remain unanswered including which receptor is responsible for transport and the precise mechanisms of action of insulin within the brain.

Keywords: Adiposity; Blood–brain barrier; Central nervous system; Cerebrospinal fluid; Insulin; Receptor-mediated transport.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology*
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Receptor, Insulin