Cognitive Ability and Brain Structure in Type 1 Diabetes

Relation to Microangiopathy and Preceding Severe Hypoglycemia

  1. Stewart C. Ferguson1,
  2. Annette Blane2,
  3. Petros Perros1,
  4. Rory J. McCrimmon1,
  5. Jonathan J.K. Best2,
  6. Joanna Wardlaw3,
  7. Ian J. Deary4 and
  8. Brian M. Frier1
  1. 1Department of Diabetes, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K.
  2. 2Department of Medical Radiology, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K.
  3. 3Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K.
  4. 4Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K.


    Type 1 diabetes is associated with chronic hyperglycemia and exposure to intermittent severe hypoglycemia. The long-term cerebral effects of these consequences of diabetes are ill defined. In this study, the history of preceding severe hypoglycemia and the presence of background retinopathy were examined in relation to cognitive ability (neuropsychological test battery) and brain structure (magnetic resonance imaging) in a cross-sectional evaluation of 74 young people with type 1 diabetes. Participants differed by their severe hypoglycemia exposure and degree of diabetic retinopathy and none had previous neuropsychological pathology. Severe hypoglycemia did not influence cognitive ability or brain structure. Background diabetic retinopathy was associated with small focal white-matter hyperintensities in the basal ganglia (33.3 vs. 4.7%, after correction for age, P = 0.005) and significant cognitive disadvantage, affecting fluid intelligence (P = 0.008, Eta2 = 0.14), information processing (P = 0.001, Eta2 = 0.22), and attention and concentration ability (P = 0.03, Eta2 = 0.09). In conclusion, recurrent exposure to severe hypoglycemia alone in young people with type 1 diabetes had no detrimental impact on brain structure or function over the duration of diabetes examined. Chronic hyperglycemia (inferred by the presence of background diabetic retinopathy) may affect brain structure and function.


    • Address correspondence and reprint requests to Prof. Brian M. Frier, Department of Diabetes, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K., EH3 9YW. E-mail: brian.frier{at}

      Received for publication 7 May 2002 and accepted in revised form 7 October, 2002.

      CRT, Choice Reaction Time; DCCT, Diabetes Control and Complications Trial; IT, Inspection Time; MRI, magnetic resonance imaging; NART, National Adult Reading Test; PASAT, Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task; SPWML, small punctate white-matter lesion; WAIS-R, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised.

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