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Alzheimer's disease [AD] is the most common cause of dementia in North America. Despite 30+ years of intense investigation, the field lacks consensus regarding the etiology and pathogenesis of sporadic AD, and therefore we still do not know the best strategies for treating and preventing this debilitating and costly disease.
However, growing evidence supports the concept that AD is fundamentally a metabolic disease with substantial and progressive derangements in brain glucose utilization and responsiveness to insulin and insulin-like growth factor [IGF] stimulation.
Moreover, AD is now recognized to be heterogeneous in nature, and not solely the end-product of aberrantly processed, misfolded, and aggregated oligomeric amyloid-beta peptides and hyperphosphorylated tau. Other factors, including impairments in energy metabolism, increased oxidative stress, inflammation, insulin and IGF resistance, and insulin/IGF deficiency in the brain should be incorporated into all equations used to develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to AD.
Herein, the contributions of impaired insulin and IGF signaling to AD-associated neuronal loss, synaptic disconnection, tau hyperphosphorylation, amyloid-beta accumulation, and impaired energy metabolism are reviewed. In addition, we discuss current therapeutic strategies and suggest additional approaches based on the hypothesis that AD is principally a metabolic disease similar to diabetes mellitus.
Ultimately, our ability to effectively detect, monitor, treat, and prevent AD will require more efficient, accurate and integrative diagnostic tools that utilize clinical, neuroimaging, biochemical, and molecular biomarker data. Finally, it is imperative that future therapeutic strategies for AD abandon the concept of uni-modal therapy in favor of multi-modal treatments that target distinct impairments at different levels within the brain insulin/IGF signaling cascades.