In the United States, there are more than five million people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Many of these patients experience a mild form of cognitive impairment before they develop into the full blown disease. Symptoms include problem with judgment, reasoning or memory that are greater than normal but do not interfere with daily functioning.
Recent research reveals that levels in the brain begin to decline even before showing the first signs of cognitive impairment. Glucose has an important role in good cognitive functioning. The brain relies heavily on this energy source. Half of the sugar in the body is used to fuel memory, reasoning and learning.
Dr. Domenico Pratico, a professor at the Center for Translational Medicine at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia led a new research which investigated the impact of glucose deprivation in our brain. In previous studies, Dr. Praico has shown that the brain builds up protein called phosphorylated tau to make up for glucose deprivation.
The tau protein then creates gridlocks of twisting fibers of tau that block the nutrients moving through to get to neurons. These tangles eventually causes the brain cells to die. In Alzheimer’s and dementia, a large number of tangles of tau proteins can be seen. Dr. Pratico had discovered that the tau buildup occurs using the P38 kinase pathway.
By using a mouse model, the research team examined the mechanism of tau phosphorlylation as a response to glucose deprivation. The team used a genetically modified mice in way to replicate memory problems and tau buildup seen in Alzheimer’s disease. The mice were then injected with chemicals that prevent glucose from entering the cell and processed into energy. The mice were then were subjected to tests for cognitive function using maze tests to evaluate memory and learning. Research were able to conclude that mice that were subjected to glucose deprivation performed much worse in the cognition tests than those mice who were normal.
Upon examining the brains of the subject mice, it was found that there were many dead cells in mice whose brains were deprived of glucose and the interneural junctions were unable to communicate with each other thus affecting memory encoding and storage. According to the research, even small episodes of chronic glucose deprivation may damage the brain. People with type 2 diabetes where glucose cannot enter the cell are predisposed to developing dementia as reported in Medical News Today.
In another study, it was found that insulin resistance could increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease by altering the way the brain uses glucose, according to Barbara Bendlin an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bendlin stated that by altering the insulin resistance in midlife, future risk of Alzheimer’s disease may be reduced as reported by WebMD.