Brain insulin signaling and cerebrovascular disease in human postmortem brain

Zoe Arvanitakis, Ana W. Capuano, Hoau Yan Wang, Julie A. Schneider, Alifiya Kapasi, David A. Bennett, Rexford S. Ahima, Steven E. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insulin is an important hormone for brain function, and alterations in insulin metabolism may be associated with neuropathology. We examined associations of molecular markers of brain insulin signaling with cerebrovascular disease. Participants were enrolled in the Religious Orders Study (ROS), an ongoing epidemiologic community-based, clinical-pathologic study of aging from across the United States. Using cross-sectional analyses, we studied a subset of ROS: 150 persons with or without diabetes, matched 1:1 by sex on age-at-death and education. We used ELISA, immunohistochemistry, and ex vivo stimulation with insulin, to document insulin signaling in postmortem midfrontal gyrus cortex tissue. Postmortem neuropathologic data identified cerebrovascular disease including brain infarcts, classified by number (as none for the reference; one; and more than one), size (gross and microscopic infarcts), and brain region/location (cortical and subcortical). Cerebral vessel pathologies were assessed, including severity of atherosclerosis, arteriolosclerosis, and amyloid angiopathy. In separate regression analyses, greater AKT1 phosphorylation at T308 following ex vivo stimulation with insulin (OR = 1.916; estimate = 0.650; p = 0.007) and greater pS616IRS1 immunolabeling in neuronal cytoplasm (OR = 1.610; estimate = 0.476; p = 0.013), were each associated with a higher number of brain infarcts. Secondary analyses showed consistent results for gross infarcts and microinfarcts separately, but no other association including by infarct location (cortical or subcortical). AKT S473 phosphorylation following insulin stimulation was associated with less amyloid angiopathy severity, but not with other vessel pathology including atherosclerosis and arteriolosclerosis. In summary, insulin resistance in the human brain, even among persons without diabetes, is associated with cerebrovascular disease and especially infarcts. The underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms need further elucidation. Because brain infarcts are known to be associated with lower cognitive function and dementia, these data are relevant to better understanding the link between brain metabolism and brain function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Amyloid angiopathy
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Brain
  • Diabetes
  • Infarct
  • Insulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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