Medications for type 2 diabetes may help treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s, as these two conditions share common disease mechanisms, according to recent research.
Fernanda De Felice, PhD, an associate professor at Federal University Rio de Janeiro, Brazil presented her team’s findings, titled “Molecular connections between Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes,” at the 2018 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting, held May 13-16 in Vancouver, Canada.
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder and the decline in brain function — mainly linked to memory loss — is the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
But Alzheimer’s has other non-memory-related symptoms whose processes and mechanisms are still unknown.
The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes has been steadily increasing worldwide, and both diseases often develop in the same individual. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease was identified as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and vice-versa.
To understand the link between these two diseases, De Felice and her team used both mice and non-human primate models of Alzheimer’s, and found that a pathway causing inflammation in the brain affected insulin signaling — the pancreas-secreting hormone that controls the levels of blood sugar.
A second pathway, called endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, was also affected. ER stress can be used as a measure of cell damage and, if unresolved, can lead to cell death.
“We know that the Alzheimer brain responds less to insulin, which is also indicative of some form of cross-talk in the pathways of these diseases,” De Felice said in a press release. “By looking at non-memory-related symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, we are getting a better understanding of the complex nature of this disease and of the different pathways it affects.”
The existence of common molecular mechanisms behind both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease supports the potential therapeutic effects of anti-diabetic agents to treat this neurodegenerative disease.
De Felice and her team tested a medication for type 2 diabetes called liraglutide (sold as Victoza, among other brand names), that works by increasing insulin levels.
This therapy reversed cognitive impairments, improved insulin sensitivity and restored electrical impulses (synapses) between brain nerve cells in non-human primate models of Alzheimer’s disease.
“A better understanding of the pathway involved in the development of the complex symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will be key to identifying more therapeutic targets to treat this devastating disease and preserve brain health,” De Felice added.