Blood Glucose Control May Protect Young Minds

Alterations in white matter structure in young children with type 1 diabetes. By Barnea-Goraly and colleagues. Diabetes Care 2014;37:332–340

What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

The brain runs on glucose, so blood glucose levels may significantly affect brain development. Studies have suggested that diabetes may affect the structure of white matter, a brain tissue that helps coordinate nerve signaling, among other roles.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

The brain rapidly develops during childhood, but it's still unclear how blood glucose levels in children with type 1 diabetes affect white matter structure and brain function.

Who was studied?

The study included 144 children between 4- and 10-years-old with type 1 diabetes and 72 control subjects without diabetes.

How was the study done?

Participants in the study wore continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for at least 72 hours. The researchers collected background information on the participants, including their history of hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic events, A1C levels, cognitive function, and behavior. Participants each had a brain MRI that focused on the structure of their white matter.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers saw clear differences between the white matter in the brains of children with type 1 diabetes and those without the disease. Higher blood glucose levels—measured by CGMs and A1C—corresponded to bigger differences in brain matter. The structure of white matter was associated with cognitive function in the children with type 1 diabetes, but not in those without diabetes.

What were the limitations of the study?

Some of the observed differences in brain structure may be due to age, not diabetes.

What are the implications of the study?

Chronic hyperglycemia may put developing young minds at risk, underlining the importance of blood glucose control in children. A better understanding of how glucose levels can injure brains may also help scientists develop new strategies for protecting the thinking organ.

  • Last Reviewed: April 1, 2014
  • Last Edited: April 3, 2014

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