Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Olivier Thibault


In the late 90’s, emerging evidence revealed that the brain is insulin-sensitive, highlighted by broad expression of brain-specific insulin receptors and reports of circulating brain insulin. Contemporary literature robustly supports the role of insulin signaling in normal brain function and suggests that insulin-related processes diminish with aging, evidenced by decreased signaling markers, reduced insulin receptor density, and lower levels of insulin transport across the blood-brain barrier. In the context of pathological cognitive decline, clinical trials using intranasal insulin delivery have reported positive outcomes on memory and learning in patients with mild cognitive decline or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. However, while the importance of insulin and its related actions in the brain are robustly supported, the distinct mechanisms and pathways that mediate these effects remain unclear.

To address this, I conducted a series of experiments exploring the impact of insulin on memory and learning in two models: primary hippocampal cell cultures and the Fisher 344 animal model of aging. These studies attempted to identify relationships between insulin receptor signaling, neuronal gene expression, glucose metabolism, and calcium homeostasis in the hippocampus using either expression of a constitutively active human insulin receptor or administration of intranasal insulin. The following dissertation summarizes this work and provides valuable insights into the potential pathways mediating these relationships. Of note, intranasal studies reported that insulin is able to significantly alter gene expression patterns in the hippocampus of both young and aged rats following chronic, repeated exposure to the ligand. In cell culture, constitutive insulin signaling correlated with significantly elevated neuronal glucose uptake and utilization, as well as with significant alterations in the overall expression and localization of the neuron-specific glucose transporter 3. Interestingly, continued activity of the insulin receptor did not appear to alter voltage-gated calcium channels in hippocampal neurons despite prior evidence of the ligand’s role in other calcium-related processes.

The results reported in this manuscript suggest that in the brain, insulin may be involved in a myriad of complex and dynamic events dependent on numerous variables, such as age, length of the exposure, and/or the insulin formulation used. Nevertheless, this work highlights the validity of using insulin to ameliorate age-related cognitive decline and supports the need for further studies exploring alternative approaches to enhance insulin receptor signaling in the brain.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [R01AG033649, T32DK007778, T32AG057461]; the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY [Fellowship to HF]; and the University of Kentucky Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences [Reinvestment Fund Award].

SuppTable.xlsx (2056 kB)
Supplemental Table 4.1 Microarray Analysis Representing the Pre-Statistically Filtered List of Genes