A Closer Link: Alzheimer’s Can Lead To Diabetes

Posted on 22 June 2016

Credit: MR McGill/Flickr

Credit: MR McGill/Flickr

A new study has discovered that Alzheimer’s disease can lead to diabetes, and drugs currently targeted at just one of the diseases could have a beneficial impact on both

Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are commonly found together, and researchers have been attempting to find out why this is the case. Aside from both rising with advancing age, a new paper published in Diabetologia has discovered that dementia complications within the brain can actually perturb the body’s management of glucose; eventually resulting in diabetes. 

“Many people are unaware of the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the fact is that around 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have some form of diabetes or disturbed glucose metabolism. This is hugely relevant as Alzheimer’s is in the vast majority of cases not inherited, and lifestyle factors and comorbidities must therefore be to blame”

A dual risk

We already know patients with diabetes are more likely to develop dementia-like symptoms, and Alzheimer’s, but before now it wasn’t clear if this worked both ways. When researchers studied a model of Alzheimer’s in this latest paper, they found that increased expression of a gene called β-Secretase 1 (BACE1), which increases production of neuron toxic amyloid beta proteins, actually led to diabetic changes too. 

Beta-secretase acts on amyloid precursor protein (APP) to produce toxic amyloid beta (although it's still far from established exactly what drives Alzheimer's)

Beta-secretase acts on amyloid precursor protein (APP) to produce toxic amyloid beta (although it’s still far from established exactly what drives Alzheimer’s)

This development is important, as previously it was largely believed diabetes originated solely in other organs in the body, such as the pancreas and liver, particularly in response to poor dietary choices. This research suggests that dementia onset in the brain can impact on metabolism too – dysregulating the entire system and causing severe diabetes. 

“This study provides a new therapeutic angle into Alzheimer’s disease and we now think that some of the compounds that are used for obesity and diabetic deregulation might potentially be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients as well. The good news is that there are a number of new drugs available right now which we are testing to see if they would reverse both Alzheimer’s and diabetes symptoms. We will also be able to study whether new treatments developed for Alzheimer’s can improve both, the diabetic and cognitive symptoms”

Re-purposing drugs

There has already been a huge push to re-purpose many drugs for other uses, one example being the upcoming metformin trial designed to test its geroprotective properties. This study raises the possibility of using dementia drugs on diabetic patients, and vice versa. 

Read more at NeuroscienceNews

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