Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Font Size

Insulin May Protect Mind, Memory

Diabetes Drugs Protect Against Alzheimer's-Related Memory Damage
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 2, 2009 -- Drugs used to keep diabetes under control may also shield memory-forming nerve connections from harmful Alzheimer's-related proteins, according to a study published online today by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at Northwestern University treated nerve cells from the hippocampus, one of the brain's critical memory centers, with insulin and the drug Avandia, which is used to treat type 2 diabetes. They discovered that insulin protected the cells from clumps of toxic proteins called amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), which target nerve connections in the brain.

The discovery that insulin may slow or prevent Alzheimer's-related memory loss fuels existing theories that the disease may be caused by a third type of diabetes.

Persons who have type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or the body does not use insulin properly. Newer research has suggested that a "type 3" diabetes may also exist. Evidence has shown that brain cells need insulin to survive and that a drop in brain insulin levels leads to brain cell damage. Memory loss can occur if the cells that die are located in the hippocampus.

"Recognizing that Alzheimer's disease is a type of brain diabetes points the way to novel discoveries that may finally result in disease-modifying treatments for this devastating disease," Sergio T. Ferreira, a member of the research team and a professor of biochemistry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, says in a news release.

In the current study, researchers found that insulin prevented ADDLs from attaching to connections between nerve cells, therefore protecting against damage. They also discovered that lower insulin levels were enhanced by adding Avandia, which increases the body's sensitivity to insulin. Study authors say the discovery that diabetes drugs shield nerve junctions in the brain from memory loss offers new hope for fighting the disease.

"Therapeutics designed to increase insulin sensitivity in the brain could provide new avenues for treating Alzheimer's disease," senior author William L. Klein, a professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a researcher in Northwestern's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, says in a news release. "Sensitivity to insulin can decline with aging, which presents a novel risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Our results demonstrate that bolstering insulin signaling can protect neurons from harm."

Today on WebMD

Remember your finger
When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
senior man with serious expression
Which kinds are treatable?
senior man
Common symptoms to look for.
mri scan of human brain
Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
eating blueberries
Colored mri of brain
Close up of elderly couple holding hands
mature woman
Woman comforting ailing mother
Senior woman with serious expression