UW News

September 14, 2011

Study tests intranasal insulin therapy for adults with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Read the Archives of Neurology paper

Intranasal insulin therapy appears to provide some benefit for cognitive function in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report published Online First Sept 12 by Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to background information in the article, insulin plays a role in a number of functions of the central nervous system. The importance of insulin in normal brain function is underscored by evidence that insulin dysregulation contributes to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a disorder characterized in its earliest stages by synaptic loss and memory impairment, the authors write. Insulin levels and insulin activity in the central nervous system are reduced in AD.

Insulin treatment results in fewer areas of impaired brain glucose use (indicated by yellow).

Insulin treatment results in fewer areas of impaired brain glucose use (indicated by yellow).Suzanne Craft

Study participants were randomized into one of three treatment groups, with 36 participants receiving 20 IU (international unit) of insulin daily, 38 receiving 40 IU of insulin daily, and 30 participants receiving placebo daily for four months. All treatments were administered using a nasal drug delivery device. The authors evaluated the effects of treatment on delayed story recall (how well participants could recall a story told to them immediately after, and after a short time lapse) and the Dementia Severity Rating Scale (DSRS) scores of participants.

Compared with participants in the placebo-controlled group, those receiving 20 IU of insulin daily showed improved delayed story recall, however no improvement was observed for participants receiving 40 IU of insulin. Also, compared with the placebo group, DSRS scores were preserved for both insulin treatment groups. Both insulin doses also appeared to preserve general cognition for younger participants as assessed by the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog) score as well as functional abilities in adults with AD as assessed by scores on the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study activities of daily living (ADCS-ADL) scale.

The authors also found that participants with AD who received either dose of insulin had preserved function compared with participants in the placebo-controlled group who showed a slight decline overall. Conversely, participants with aMCI showed no change regardless of treatment assignment.

In conclusion, the results of the pilot trial demonstrate that the administration of intranasal insulin stabilized or improved cognition, function and cerebral glucose metabolism for adults with aMCI or AD, the authors write. Taken together, these results provide an impetus for future clinical trials of intranasal insulin therapy and for further mechanistic studies of insulin’s role in the pathogenesis of AD.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging, the Nancy and Buster Alvord Endowment and the Department of Veterans Affairs.