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Obesity is a major modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD), characterized by progressive atrophy of the cerebral cortex. The neurobiology of obesity contributions to AD is poorly understood. Here we show with in vivo MRI that diet-induced obesity decreases cortical volume in mice, and that higher body adiposity associates with lower cortical volume in humans. Single-nuclei transcriptomics of the mouse cortex reveals that dietary obesity promotes an array of neuron-adverse transcriptional dysregulations, which are mediated by an interplay of excitatory neurons and glial cells, and which involve microglial activation and lowered neuronal capacity for neuritogenesis and maintenance of membrane potential. The transcriptional dysregulations of microglia, more than of other cell types, are like those in AD, as assessed with single-nuclei cortical transcriptomics in a mouse model of AD and two sets of human donors with the disease. Serial two-photon tomography of microglia demonstrates microgliosis throughout the mouse cortex. The spatial pattern of adiposity-cortical volume associations in human cohorts interrogated together with in silico bulk and single-nucleus transcriptomic data from the human cortex implicated microglia (along with other glial cells and subtypes of excitatory neurons), and it correlated positively with the spatial profile of cortical atrophy in patients with mild cognitive impairment and AD. Thus, multi-cell neuron-adverse dysregulations likely contribute to the loss of cortical tissue in obesity. The dysregulations of microglia may be pivotal to the obesity-related risk of AD.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Behav Immun

Publication Date





637 - 647


Bioinformatics, Cerebral cortex, In silico transcriptomics, Magnetic resonance imaging, Obesity, Serial 2-photon tomography, Single cell RNA sequencing