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Metabolism and the Brain

Evidence for the role of insulin in mediating normal and abnormal brain function may lead
to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.

By Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin, Danielle S. Cha and Roger S. McIntyre |December 1, 2012

An intimate link exists between the brain and the metabolism of sugar—one that has too long been overlooked by the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry.

The metabolic link

The association between disruptions in glucose metabolism and psychiatric disorders was first documented more than 3 centuries ago by the English doctor Thomas Willis. He noted that persons who had experienced stressful life events, depression, or “long sorrow,” often suffered from diabetes. Years later, in 1897, British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley observed that diabetes and insanity are often co-expressed in families, and in 1935, American psychiatrist William Claire Menninger postulated the existence of psychogenic diabetes and described a “diabetic personality.” More recently, researchers suggested that enhancing glucose metabolism and related insulin-signaling pathways in the brain improved functional activity of patients with schizophrenia.

Insulin has come to be known as a neuropeptide critical for neuron growth, neuroplasticity, and neuromodulation.

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