McLEAN IN THE NEWS

Study Using New Imaging Technology Detects Subtle Brain Changes in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes

June 30th, 2006

Although people with diabetes are twice as likely as the general population to develop depression, the cause of this increased risk is not well understood. Now, a Joslin Diabetes Center-led collaboration, which includes Perry Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., director of McLean's Neuroimaging Center, has documented for the first time subtle changes in the gray matter of the brain of type 1 diabetes patients compared to control subjects who did not have diabetes. They made these observations using voxel-based morphometry (VBM), a relatively new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that allows researchers to take very sensitive measurements of small regions in the brain. For the first time, doctors have reason to ask if the increased risk of depression could in fact be due to changes in brain.

The study was published in the February issue of the American Diabetes Association journal, Diabetes. For the study, the researchers measured gray matter densities in areas of the brain responsible for memory, language processing and attention. When they compared the images of 82 patients who had type 1 diabetes for 15 to 25 years with minimal complications to those of 36 age-matched control subjects who did not have diabetes, they discovered lower levels of gray matter density in the group with diabetes. Among that group, they also found that these lower levels in density were associated with poorer glycemic control and higher frequency of hypoglycemic events that led to unconsciousness.

"Now that we've identified unexpected structural changes in the brains of people with diabetes, we need to understand more about how these relate to changes in brain function," says Renshaw. "The more we understand the problem, the better solutions we can find."

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