Type 2 diabetes mellitus is associated with accelerated cognitive decline. The underlying pathophysiological mechanisms still remain to be elucidated although it is known that insulin signaling modulates neurotransmitter activity, including inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and excitatory glutamate (Glu) receptors. Therefore, we examined whether levels of GABA and Glu are related to diabetes status and cognitive performance.
Forty-one participants with type 2 diabetes and 39 participants without type 2 diabetes underwent detailed cognitive assessments and 3-Tesla proton MR spectroscopy. The associations of neurotransmitters with type 2 diabetes and cognitive performance were examined using multivariate regression analyses controlling for age, sex, education, BMI, and percentage gray/white matter ratio in spectroscopic voxel.
Analysis revealed higher GABA+ levels in participants with type 2 diabetes, in participants with higher fasting blood glucose levels and in participants with higher HbA1c levels, and higher GABA+ levels in participants with both high HbA1c levels and less cognitive performance.
To conclude, participants with type 2 diabetes have alterations in the GABAergic neurotransmitter system, which are related to lower cognitive functioning, and hint at the involvement of an underlying metabolic mechanism.