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UTSW Study Links Alzheimer's-Related Protein To Diabetes And Obesity

UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dr. Yu A. An, first author of a new study on fat cell dysfunction, shows a seahorse plate used to measure metabolic activity in fat, to Dr. Philipp Scherer, senior author of the study.

A new study found a protein linked to Alzheimer’s Disease also contributes to problems with diabetes and obesity.

It’s called the amyloid precursor protein or APP. That’s the same amyloid believed to form plaque that may cause cognitive decline. Thestudy, published in Nature Metabolism, found APP occurs in far higher levels in the fat cells of mice and humans who are obese.

The study’s senior author is Dr. Philipp Scherer of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research. Scherer talked with KERA about how APP causes problems in the body’s fat cells. 


The Link Between APP And Diabetes

It turns out that high fat diets actually lead to the production of APP within the fat cell themselves. Then as the fat cell becomes challenged and less functional, we actually progress towards a type 2 diabetic state where we have high levels of insulin resistance.

The Diabetes Of The Brain

What's interesting is that we know from the Alzheimer's field that there is an association between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. You sometimes hear Alzheimer's disease is the diabetes of the brain. This is based on the fact that the nerve cells become insulin resistant. We have high sugar levels in the brain that can actually enhance the formation of these plaques.

Even though we don't have plaque formation in our fat tissue, the very fact that the induction of APP can actually lead to this high level of dysfunction of our fat tissue is an interesting new spin, and we can certainly now also check in the brain whether or not a similar mechanism is associated with that neurodegeneration.

Perhaps Another Clue To What May Cause Alzheimer’s

We certainly have gained a lot of insights into what actually leads to the problems that we see in our fat tissue as we gain weight — but I think we can also learn the lesson for the brain from this.

What we now see in the fat cells could actually also potentially apply to our nerve cells in the brain. They may actually engage in an energetic deficit, because within the nerve cells this APP protein may mislocalize and cause similar troubles that it causes in adipose (fat) tissue.


APP Study

UT Southwestern: Protein associated with Alzheimer's also causes dysfunction in fat cells, increasing obesity, diabetes risk

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

American Diabetes Association

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.