Brain Memory Signals Linked to Blood Sugar Levels

Summary: Researchers report on how a cluster of neurons in the hippocampus may directly regulate metabolism.

Source: NYU Langone

A set of brain signals known to help memories form may also influence blood sugar levels, finds a new study in rats.

Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine discovered that a peculiar signaling pattern in the brain region called the hippocampus, linked by past studies to memory formation, also influences metabolism, the process by which dietary nutrients are converted into blood sugar (glucose) and supplied to cells as an energy source.

The study revolves around brain cells called neurons that “fire” (generate electrical pulses) to pass on messages. Researchers in recent years discovered that populations of hippocampal neurons fire within milliseconds of each other in cycles, with the firing pattern is called a “sharp wave ripple” for the shape it takes when captured graphically by EEG, a technology that records brain activity with electrodes.

Published online in Nature on August 11, a new study found that clusters of hippocampal sharp wave ripples were reliably followed within minutes by decreases in blood sugar levels in the bodies of rats.

While the details need to be confirmed, the findings suggest that the ripples may regulate the timing of the release of hormones, possibly including insulin, by the pancreas and liver, as well of other hormones by the pituitary gland.

“Our study is the first to show how clusters of brain cell firing in the hippocampus may directly regulate metabolism,” says senior study author György Buzsáki, MD, PhD, the Biggs Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Langone Health

“We are not saying that the hippocampus is the only player in this process, but that the brain may have a say in it through sharp wave ripples,” says Buzsáki, also a faculty member in the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone.

Known to keep blood sugar at normal levels, insulin is released by pancreatic cells, not continually, but periodically in bursts. As sharp wave ripples mostly occur during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, the impact of sleep disturbance on sharp wave ripples may provide a mechanistic link between poor sleep and high blood sugar levels seen in type 2 diabetes, say the study authors.

Previous work by Buzsaki’s team had suggested that the sharp wave ripples are involved in permanently storing each day’s memories the same night during NREM sleep, and his 2019 study found that rats learned faster to navigate a maze when ripples were experimentally prolonged.

“Evidence suggests that the brain evolved, for reasons of efficiency, to use the same signals to achieve two very different functions in terms of memory and hormonal regulation,” says corresponding study author David Tingley, PhD, a post-doctoral scholar in Buzsaki’s lab.

Dual Role

The hippocampus is a good candidate brain region for multiple roles, say the researchers, because of its wiring to other brain regions, and because hippocampal neurons have many surface proteins (receptors) sensitive to hormone levels, so they can adjust their activity as part of feedback loops.

The new findings suggest that hippocampal ripples reduce blood glucose levels as part of such a loop.

“Animals could have first developed a system to control hormone release in rhythmic cycles, but then applied the same mechanism to memory when they later developed a more complex brain,” adds Tingley.

The study data also suggest that hippocampal sharp wave ripple signals are conveyed to hypothalamus, which is known to innervate and influence the pancreas and liver, but through an intermediate brain structure called the lateral septum.

Researchers found that ripples may influence the lateral septum just by amplitude (the degree to which hippocampal neurons fire at once), not by the order in which the ripples are combined, which may encode memories as their signals reach the cortex.

This shows a brain
While the details need to be confirmed, the findings suggest that the ripples may regulate the timing of the release of hormones, possibly including insulin, by the pancreas and liver, as well of other hormones by the pituitary gland. Image is in the public domain

In line with this theory, short duration ripples that occurred in clusters of more 30 per minute, as seen during NREM sleep, induced a decrease in peripheral glucose levels several times larger than isolated ripples. Importantly, silencing the lateral septum eliminated the impact of hippocampal sharp wave ripples on peripheral glucose.

To confirm that hippocampal firing patterns caused the glucose level decrease, the team used a technology called optogenetics to artificially induce ripples by re-engineering hippocampal cells to include light-sensitive channels.

Shining light on such cells through glass fibers induces ripples independent of the rat’s behavior or brain state (e.g. resting or waking). Similar to their natural counterparts, the synthetic ripples reduced sugar levels.

Moving forward, the research team will seek to extend its theory that several hormones could be affected by nightly sharp wave ripples, including through work in human patients. Future research may also reveal devices or therapies that can adjust ripples to lower blood sugar and improve memory, says Buzsaki.  

Along with Tingley and Buzsaki, study authors were Ekin Kaya, Kathryn McClain, and Jordan Carpenter at NYU Langone Health.

Funding: The work was funded by National Institutes of Health grants MH122391, U19 NS104590, and U19NS107616.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Gregory Williams
Source: NYU Langone
Contact: Gregory Williams – NYU Langone
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
A metabolic function of the hippocampal sharp wave-ripple” by David Tingley, Kathryn McClain, Ekin Kaya, Jordan Carpenter & György Buzsáki. Nature


A metabolic function of the hippocampal sharp wave-ripple

The hippocampus has previously been implicated in both cognitive and endocrine function

We simultaneously measured electrophysiological activity from the hippocampus and interstitial glucose concentrations in the body of freely behaving rats to identify an activity pattern that may link these disparate functions of the hippocampus.

Here we report that clusters of sharp wave-ripples recorded from the hippocampus reliably predicted a decrease in peripheral glucose concentrations within about 10 min.

This correlation was not dependent on circadian, ultradian or meal-triggered fluctuations, could be mimicked with optogenetically induced ripples in the hippocampus (but not in the parietal cortex) and was attenuated to chance levels by pharmacogenetically suppressing activity of the lateral septum, which is the major conduit between the hippocampus and the hypothalamus.

Our findings demonstrate that a function of the sharp wave-ripple is to modulate peripheral glucose homeostasis, and offer a mechanism for the link between sleep disruption and blood glucose dysregulation in type 2 diabetes.

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  1. I’d be interested in human trials , whenever they might begin. First, I was reasonably certain that some psychiatric drugs I was prescribed that were supposed to regulate moods, actually caused my late onset ( mid 60’s) diabetes 2, and I have lifelong insomnia. My trauma memories are stored differently which sort of short circuits the hippocampus , going right to the amygdala. ( if you believe that theory). I would love to know more!

  2. Wow so maybe sleep apnoa or mouthbreathing could a factor in those that are not over weight …possibly…

  3. So they say “sweet dreams” this I feel is significant especially when it comes to remembering the dreams. Interestingly enough I recently had what we call a recurring dream.i could remember details and differences within the dream. Sa they say “sweet dreams”

    1. Si de llegará a regular las ondas emitidas por el Hipocampo y su relación con el Hipotálamo regularizamos la emisión de hormona del hígado y páncreas (Insulina)
      conforme a las concentraciones adecuadas ,para prevenir la Diabetis Tipo 2

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