Epigenetic mechanisms linking diabetes and synaptic impairments

  1. Giulio M. Pasinetti1,3
  1. 1Department of Neurology,
  2. 2Department of Radiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York 10029;
  3. 3Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bronx, New York 10468.
  1. Corresponding author: Giulio Maria Pasinetti, Email: giulio.pasinetti{at}


Diabetes is one of the major risk factors for dementia. However, the molecular mechanism underlying the risk of diabetes for dementia is largely unknown. Recent studies revealed that epigenetic modifications may play a role in the pathogenesis of diabetes. We hypothesized that diabetes may cause epigenetic changes in the brain that may adversely affect synaptic function. We found significant elevation in the expression of histone deacetylases (HDACs) class IIa in the brains of diabetic subjects compared to control subjects, and these changes coincide with altered expression of synaptic proteins. In a mouse model of diet-induced type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM), we found that, similar to humans, T2DM mice also showed increased expression of HDAC IIa in the brain and these alterations were associated with increased susceptibility to oligomeric Aβ-induced synaptic impairments in the hippocampal formation and eventually led to synaptic dysfunction. Pharmacological inhibition of HDAC IIa was able to restore synaptic plasticity. Our study demonstrated that diabetes may induce epigenetic modifications affecting neuropathological mechanisms in the brain leading to increased susceptibility to insults associated with neurodegenerative or vascular impairments. Our study provides, for the first time, an epigenetic explanation for the increased risk of diabetic patients to develop dementia.

  • Received July 5, 2013.
  • Accepted October 15, 2013.

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