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2016 Grants - Robinson
Obesity-Related Cognitive Impairment: The Role of Brain Insulin
Catrina Sims Robinson, Ph.D.
Medical University of South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
2016 Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant to Promote Diversity (AARG-D)
Why is obesity associated with an increased risk of memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease?
People who are obese have an increased risk for memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease as they age, compared to people of average body weight. The mechanisms that explain this increased risk are not well understood. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body maintain appropriate levels of blood sugar. Insulin is also transported into the brain, where it is important for helping nerve cells acquire and use the energy they need. In obesity, levels of insulin in the blood are abnormally high, but levels in the brain are abnormally low, suggesting that transport of insulin into the brain may be impaired. More research is needed to better understand how brain levels of insulin may contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s in people with obesity.
Catrina Sims Robinson, Ph.D., and colleagues will examine the molecular mechanisms that may link obesity and reduced transport of insulin into the brain. They will study normal mice given a high-fat diet for several weeks to mimic the body and brain changes that occur in humans with obesity. The researchers will then collect the blood vessels that supply the brain and measure the levels of proteins needed for insulin transport into the brain. Dr. Robinson’s team will also study mice genetically engineered to lack the insulin transport protein in blood vessels that supply the brain. When these mice are given a HFD they become obese, but have very low levels of insulin in the brain. The researchers will determine how low insulin levels in the brain affect learning and memory function in the mice.
This research could help scientists better understand how obesity may increase the risk of memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, these findings could also lead to new ways to prevent declines in brain function by regulating the transport of insulin into the brain.