Estrogen and insulin transport through the blood-brain barrier

Physiol Behav. 2016 Sep 1:163:312-321. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.05.019. Epub 2016 May 13.


Obesity is associated with insulin resistance and reduced transport of insulin through the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Reversal of high-fat diet-induced obesity (HFD-DIO) by dietary intervention improves the transport of insulin through the BBB and the sensitivity of insulin in the brain. Although both insulin and estrogen (E2), when given alone, reduce food intake and body weight via the brain, E2 actually renders the brain relatively insensitive to insulin's catabolic action. The objective of these studies was to determine if E2 influences the ability of insulin to be transported into the brain, since the receptors for both E2 and insulin are found in BBB endothelial cells. E2 (acute or chronic) was systemically administered to ovariectomized (OVX) female rats and male rats fed a chow or a high-fat diet. Food intake, body weight and other metabolic parameters were assessed along with insulin entry into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Acute E2 treatment in OVX female and male rats reduced body weight and food intake, and chronic E2 treatment prevented or partially reversed high-fat diet-induced obesity. However, none of these conditions increased insulin transport into the CNS; rather, chronic E2 treatment was associated less-effective insulin transport into the CNS relative to weight-matched controls. Thus, the reduction of brain insulin sensitivity by E2 is unlikely to be mediated by increasing the amount of insulin entering the CNS.

Keywords: 17β-Estradiol; Blood-brain barrier; CNS insulin transport; Diet-induced obesity; Insulin resistance; Metabolic syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / metabolism
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology
  • Dietary Fats
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Glucose Transporter Type 1 / metabolism
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Ovariectomy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Synaptophysin / metabolism


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Dietary Fats
  • Estrogens
  • Glucose Transporter Type 1
  • Insulin
  • Synaptophysin