Insulin levels affect the brain's dopamine systems
Insulin, long known as an important regulator of blood glucose levels, now has a newly appreciated role in the brain.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers, working with colleagues in Texas, have found that insulin levels affect the brain's dopamine systems, which are involved in drug addiction and many neuropsychiatric conditions.
In addition to suggesting potential new targets for treating drug abuse, the findings raise questions as to whether improper control of insulin levels - as in diabetes - may impact risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or influence the effectiveness of current ADHD medications.
The study, led by Aurelio Galli, Ph.D., in the Center for Molecular Neuroscience and Calum Avison, Ph.D., in the Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS), appears online this week in the Public Library of Science Biology (PLoS Biology).
The results are some of the first to link insulin status and dopaminergic brain function and hold several implications for human health and disease.
"This is really the first mechanistic connection in vivo between diabetes and amphetamine action," Galli said. "This offers a completely new perspective on the influence of this disease (diabetes) on brain function, as well as diseases with altered dopamine signaling, such as schizophrenia and ADHD."
The findings suggest that ADHD risk may have an insulin-dependent component and that control of insulin levels and response to the hormone may be an important determinant of amphetamine efficacy in patients with ADHD, Galli noted.
"We have described a novel mechanism by which diabetes may affect brain function."