Intranasal insulin

J Neuroendocrinol. 2021 Apr;33(4):e12934. doi: 10.1111/jne.12934. Epub 2021 Jan 28.


The intranasal (IN) route enables the delivery of insulin to the central nervous system in the relative absence of systemic uptake and related peripheral side effects. Intranasally administered insulin is assumed to travel along olfactory and adjacent pathways and has been shown to rapidly accumulate in cerebrospinal fluid, indicating efficient transport to the brain. Two decades of studies in healthy humans and patients have demonstrated that IN insulin exerts functional effects on metabolism, such as reductions in food intake and body weight and improvements of glucose homeostasis, as well as cognition, ie, enhancements of memory performance both in healthy individuals and patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease; these studies moreover indicate a favourable safety profile of the acute and repeated use of IN insulin. Emerging findings suggest that IN insulin also modulates neuroendocrine activity, sleep-related mechanisms, sensory perception and mood. Some, but not all studies point to sex differences in the response to IN insulin that need to be further investigated along with the impact of age. "Brain insulin resistance" is an evolving concept that posits impairments in central nervous insulin signalling as a pathophysiological factor in metabolic and cognitive disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, and, notably, a target of interventions that rely on IN insulin. Still, the negative outcomes of longer-term IN insulin trials in individuals with obesity or Alzheimer's disease highlight the need for conceptual as well as methodological advances to translate the promising results of proof-of-concept experiments and pilot clinical trials into the successful clinical application of IN insulin.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; brain insulin signalling; cognition; intranasal administration; memory; metabolism; mood; olfaction; sleep.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / drug effects
  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Insulin / administration & dosage*
  • Memory / drug effects


  • Insulin