Elevated hippocampal copper in cases of type 2 diabetes

Sasha Philbert, Sarah Schönberger, Jingshu Xu, Stephanie Church, Richard Unwin, Garth JS Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Type-2 diabetes (T2D) is characterized by chronic hyperglycaemia and glucose-evoked organ damage, and displays systemic copper overload, elevated risk of impaired cognitive function, and epidemiological links to sporadic Alzheimer's disease (sAD). Contrastingly, sAD exhibits impaired cerebral-glucose uptake, elevation of cerebral glucose but not blood glucose levels, and widespread cerebral-copper deficiency. We hypothesized that sAD-like brain-metal perturbations would occur in T2D. Methods: We measured nine essential elements in an observational case–control study of T2D without dementia (6 cases and 6 controls) in four brain regions and compared the results with those from our study of brain metals in sAD (9 cases and 9 controls), which employed equivalent analytical methodology. We evaluated intergroup differences by supervised and unsupervised multivariate-statistical approaches to contrast between T2D cases and controls, and to compare them with cerebral-metal patterns in sAD. Findings: Unexpectedly, we found that hippocampal-copper levels in T2D were markedly elevated compared with controls (P = 0.005 and 0.007 by Welch's t-test in two technical-replicate experiments), to levels similar to those in cases of untreated Wilson's disease (WD), wherein elevated cerebral copper causes neurodegeneration. By contrast, hippocampal-copper levels in sAD were markedly deficient. Multivariate analysis identified marked differences in patterns of essential metals between hippocampal datasets from cases of T2D and of sAD. Interpretation: Elevated hippocampal copper could contribute to the pathogenesis of cerebral neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment in T2D, similar to known impacts of elevated brain copper in WD. Therapeutic approaches with copper-lowering agents similar to those currently employed in pharmacotherapy of WD, may also be applicable in patients with T2D and impaired cognitive function. Further studies will be required to replicate and extend these findings and to investigate their potential therapeutic implications. Funding: In Acknowledgments, includes Endocore Research Trust; Lee Trust; Oakley Mental Health Research Foundation; Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment; The Universities of Auckland and Manchester, and others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104317
Issue number104317
Early online date3 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Copper homeostasis
  • Hippocampal copper
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Sporadic Alzheimer's disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Wilson's disease

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Cancer Research Centre


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