• Press Release

Changes in Epigenetic DNA Functions Reveal How Diabetes Predisposes Individuals to Alzheimer’s Disease

Mount Sinai Researchers Hope to Exploit Findings to Develop Novel Preventive and Treatment Strategies for Alzheimer’s Disease

  • (October 23, 2013)

Diabetes and dementia are rising dramatically in the United States and worldwide. In the last few years, epidemiological data has accrued showing that older people with diabetes are significantly more likely to develop cognitive deterioration and increased susceptibility to onset of dementia related to Alzheimer's disease. Now, a research team led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, the Saunders Family Chair and Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, discovered a novel mechanism through which this may occur. The results are published online Oct. 23, in the journal Diabetes.

Dr. Pasinetti and colleagues pinpointed changes in post-mortem brains of human subjects. They reported that gene expression was dysfunctional in the brains of diabetic human subjects, and this increase was associated with reduced expression of important molecules that play a critical role in maintaining the structural integrity of brain regions associated with learning.

Excited by this finding, Dr. Pasinetti reasoned that if the hypothesis was correct, similar conditions should be repeated in the laboratory by inducing diabetes in mice genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer's type memory deterioration.

In fact, Dr. Pasinetti's laboratory confirmed this prediction in the mouse model,  supporting the hypothesis that diabetes, through epigenetic changes in the brain, may casually promote onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease. Epigenetic changes are chemical changes in DNA that effect gene expression, but don't alter the actual genetic code.

"This new evidence is extremely intriguing, given that approximately 60 percent of Alzheimer's disease patients have at least one serious medical condition associated with diabetes," said Dr. Pasinetti. "What this adds is much needed insight into the potential mechanism that might explain the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer's disease onset and progression by mechanisms through which DNA functions."

The discovery in Dr. Pasinetti's laboratory has staggering societal implications. More than 5 million are affected by Alzheimer's disease dementia, and the disease incidence is expected to skyrocket in the three decades as the population ages.

"The next question we must ask is how we can translate this into the development of novel disease prevention and treatment strategies," Dr. Pasinetti added. "If we can find out how DNA epigenetic modification can be manipulated pharmacologically, these studies will be instrumental in the formulation of novel treatments and possible preventative strategies in Alzheimer's disease.

Collaborating on this research were several people, also at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Tuyen Nguyen, PhD, Weina Bi, BA, Amanda Bilski, BA, Shimul Begum, BA, Preshant Vempati, MS, Lindsay Knable BA, and Lap Ho, PhD.

About the Passinetti Laboratory

The primary research goals in Dr. Pasinetti's laboratory are to investigate the biological processes which occur when, during aging, subjects with normal cognitive functions convert into the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and then to frank dementia. Dr. Pasinetti's lab is presently using newly developed transgenic mouse models genetically modified to develop disease to test pre-clinically the potential therapeutic relevance of novel drug treatments to be further developed in clinical application.  


About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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