Brain Insulin Signaling, Alzheimer Disease Pathology, and Cognitive Function

Zoe Arvanitakis, Hoau Yan Wang, Ana W. Capuano, Amber Khan, Bouchra Taïb, Frederick Anokye-Danso, Julie A. Schneider, David A. Bennett, Rexford S. Ahima, Steven E. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine associations of molecular markers of brain insulin signaling with Alzheimer disease (AD) and cognition among older persons with or without diabetes. Methods: This clinical–pathologic study was derived from a community-based cohort study, the Religious Orders Study. We studied 150 individuals (mean age at death =87 years, 48% women): 75 with and 75 without diabetes (matched by sex on age at death and education). Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, immunohistochemistry, and ex vivo stimulation of brain tissue with insulin, we assessed insulin signaling in the postmortem middle frontal gyrus cortex. Postmortem data documented AD neuropathology. Clinical evaluations documented cognitive function proximate to death, based on 17 neuropsychological tests. In adjusted regression analyses, we examined associations of brain insulin signaling with diabetes, AD, and level of cognition. Results: Brain insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS1) phosphorylation (pS307IRS1/total IRS1) and serine/threonine-protein kinase (AKT) phosphorylation (pT308AKT1/total AKT1) were similar in persons with or without diabetes. AKT phosphorylation was associated with the global AD pathology score (p = 0.001). In contrast, IRS1 phosphorylation was not associated with AD (p = 0.536). No other associations of insulin signaling were found with the global AD score, including when using the ex vivo brain insulin stimulation method. In secondary analyses, normalized pT308AKT1 was positively correlated with both the amyloid burden and tau tangle density, and no other associations of brain insulin signaling with neuropathology were observed. Moreover, normalized pT308AKT1 was associated with a lower level of global cognitive function (estimate = −0.212, standard error = 0.097; p = 0.031). Interpretation: Brain AKT phosphorylation, a critical node in the signaling of insulin and other growth factors, is associated with AD neuropathology and lower cognitive function. ANN NEUROL 2020;88:513–525.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-525
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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