Autotaxin, Alzheimer's Disease, and Type 2 Diabetes

According to new research from Iowa State University, an enzyme in the fluid around the brain can indicate a person's risk for both Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes.

This research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, helps doctors determine a patient's risk for both conditions, which can lead to better preventative treatment. It also offers up a better understanding of why cognitive decline typically accompanies type 2 diabetes.

What Is Autotaxin?

Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State, led a team of researchers in their study of brain and spinal fluid. "We've been looking for metabolic biomarkers which are closer to the brain. We're also looking for markers that reliably scale up with the disease and have consistently higher levels across the Alzheimer's spectrum," Willette said.

During their studies, they came upon autotaxin, an enzyme found in this fluid that is usually studied in cancer research. However, due to the enzyme's close proximity to the brain, Willette and his team investigated further. Willette said that autotaxin was "as directly inside of the brain as we can get without taking a tissue biopsy."

As their findings show, it turns out that autotaxin was in fact influential in the health of a person's brain. For example mere one-point difference in autotaxin levels - for example, going from a level of two to a three – resulted in a 3.5 to 5 times increase in the odds of being diagnosed Alzheimer's or another form of memory loss. And when it comes to type 2 diabetes, the results were even more damning; a one point increase in autotaxin levels resulted in a 300 percent increase in a patient's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What Increases My Levels?

Willette and his team's discovery has the potential to help millions of people decrease their risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as a host of cognitive complications. But how do you keep your autotaxin at a healthy level?

The answer, unsurprisingly, relates to physical health. Researchers found that people with higher levels of autotaxin were more likely to be obese. Obesity, Willette explained, can lead to increased blood sugar levels (a contributing factor of type 2 diabetes), and that can in turn lead to cognitive decline.

“Autotaxin is related to less real estate in the brain, and smaller brain regions in Alzheimer’s disease mean they are less able to carry out their functions,” Willette says. “It’s the same thing with blood sugar. If the brain is using less blood sugar, neurons have less fuel and start making mistakes and in general do not process information as quickly.”

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