Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Olivier Thibault


Aging is the main risk factor for cognitive decline. The hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning and memory formation, is especially vulnerable to normal and pathological age-related cognitive decline. Dysregulation of both insulin and intracellular Ca2+ signaling appear to coexist and their compromised actions may synergistically contribute to neuronal dysfunction with aging. This dissertation focused on the interaction between insulin, Ca2+ dysregulation, and cognition in hippocampal neurons by examining the contributions of insulin to Ca2+ signaling events that influence memory formation. I tested the hypothesis that insulin would increase cognition in aged animals by altering Ca2+-dependent physiological mechanisms involved in learning. The possible effects of insulin on learning and memory in young and aged rats were studied. In addition, the effects of insulin on the Ca2+-dependent afterhyperpolarization in CA1 pyramidal hippocampal neurons from young and aged animals were compared. Further, primary hippocampal cultures were used to examine the possible effects of insulin on voltage-gated Ca2+ channel activity and Ca2+-induced Ca2+-release; mechanisms known to influence the AHP.

We found that intranasal insulin improved memory in aged F344 rats. Young and aged F344 rats were treated with Humalog®, a short-acting insulin analog, or Levemir®, a long-acting insulin analog. The aged rats performed similar to young rats in the Morris Water Maze, a hippocampal dependent spatial learning and memory task. Electrophysiological recordings from CA1 hippocampal neurons revealed that insulin reduced the age-related increase in the Ca2+-dependent afterhyperpolarization, a prominent biomarker of brain aging that is associated with cognitive decline. Patch clamping recording from hippocampal cultured neurons showed that insulin reduced Ca2+ channel currents. Intracellular Ca2+ levels were also monitored using Fura-2 in response to cellular depolarization. Results indicated that a reduction in Ca2+-induced Ca2+-release from intracellular stores occurred in the presence of insulin.

These results suggest that increasing brain insulin levels in aged rats may have improved memory by reducing the AHP and intracellular Ca2+concentrations. This study indicates a possible mechanism responsible for the beneficial effects of intranasal insulin on cognitive function absorbed in selective Alzheimer’s patients. Thus, insulin therapy may reduce or prevent age-related compromises to Ca2+ regulatory pathways typically associated with cognitive decline.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)