The Impact of Hypo- and Hyperglycemia on Cognition and Brain Development in Young Children with Type 1 Diabetes

Horm Res Paediatr. 2021;94(3-4):115-123. doi: 10.1159/000517352. Epub 2021 Jul 9.


Human and experimental animal data suggest both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can lead to altered brain structure and neurocognitive function in type 1 diabetes (T1D). Young children with T1D are prone to extreme fluctuations in glucose levels. The overlap of these potential dysglycemic insults to the brain during the time of most active brain and cognitive development may cause cellular and structural injuries that appear to persist into adult life. Brain structure and cognition in persons with T1D are influenced by age of onset, exposure to glycemic extremes such as severe hypoglycemic episodes, history of diabetic ketoacidosis, persistent hyperglycemia, and glucose variability. Studies using brain imaging techniques have shown brain changes that appear to be influenced by metabolic abnormalities characteristic of diabetes, changes apparent at diagnosis and persistent throughout adulthood. Some evidence suggests that brain injury might also directly contribute to psychological and mental health outcomes. Neurocognitive deficits manifest across multiple cognitive domains. Moreover, impaired executive function and mental health can affect patients' adherence to treatment. This review summarizes the current data on the impact of glycemic extremes on brain structure and cognitive function in youth with T1D and the use of new diabetes technologies that may reduce these complications.

Keywords: Brain function; Diabetes technology; Hyperglycemia; Hypoglycemia; Type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain* / growth & development
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Brain* / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1* / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis / metabolism
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia* / metabolism
  • Hyperglycemia* / physiopathology
  • Hypoglycemia* / metabolism
  • Hypoglycemia* / physiopathology