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BACKGROUND: Impaired insulin signalling is increasingly thought to contribute to Alzheimer's disease (AD). The ε4 isoform of the APOE gene is the greatest genetic risk factor for sporadic, late onset AD, and is also associated with risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Neuropathological studies reported the highest number of AD lesions in brain tissue of ε4 diabetic patients. However other studies assessing AD pathology amongst the diabetic population have produced conflicting reports and have failed to show an increase in AD-related pathology in diabetic brain. The thiazolidinediones (TZDs), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma agonists, are peripheral insulin sensitisers used to treat T2DM. The TZD, pioglitazone, improved memory and cognitive functions in mild to moderate AD patients. Since it is not yet clear how apoE isoforms influence the development of T2DM and its progression to AD, we investigated amyloid beta and tau pathology in APOE knockout mice, carrying human APOEε3 or ε4 transgenes after diet-induced insulin resistance with and without pioglitazone treatment. METHODS: Male APOE knockout, APOEε3-transgenic and APOEε4-transgenic mice, together with background strain C57BL6 mice were kept on a high fat diet (HFD) or low fat diet (LFD) for 32 weeks, or were all fed HFD for 32 weeks and during the final 3 weeks animals were treated with pioglitazone or vehicle. RESULTS: All HFD animals developed hyperglycaemia with elevated plasma insulin. Tau phosphorylation was reduced at 3 epitopes (Ser396, Ser202/Thr205 and Thr231) in all HFD, compared to LFD, animals independent of APOE genotype. The introduction of pioglitazone to HFD animals led to a significant reduction in tau phosphorylation at the Ser202/Thr205 epitope in APOEε3 animals only. We found no changes in APP processing however the levels of soluble amyloid beta 40 was reduced in APOE knockout animals treated with pioglitazone.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Alleles, Amyloid beta-Peptides, Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor, Animals, Apolipoproteins E, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2, Diet, High-Fat, Genotype, Humans, Hyperinsulinism, Hypoglycemic Agents, Insulin Resistance, Male, Mice, Phosphorylation, Solubility, Thiazolidinediones, tau Proteins