There is accumulating evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with the contribution of diabetes to Alzheimer disease (AD) progression. Neuronal mitochondrial proteins are found in plasma neuronal-derived exosomes (NDEs) at levels that reflect those in brain neurons. Here, we tested the performance of mitochondrial proteins in plasma NDEs to predict cognitive decline and brain injury in participants with diabetes. The study participants with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) included 41 cognitively normal control subjects, 97 individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) (68 individuals with stable MCI; 29 individuals with progressive MCI), and 36 patients with AD dementia. Plasma neuroexosomal proteins were measured by ELISA kits. Spearman correlation was used to test associations between plasma neuroexosomal mitochondrial proteins and other core biomarkers of AD. Diagnostic accuracy for progressive MCI and AD was obtained for mitochondrial proteins using receiver operating characteristic curve analyses. The associations of mitochondrial proteins with the conversion from MCI to AD were assessed by Cox proportional hazard regression analysis. Plasma levels of neuroexosomal NADH ubiquinone oxidoreductase core subunit S3 (NDUFS3) and succinate dehydrogenase complex subunit B (SDHB) were significantly lower in patients with T2DM with AD dementia and progressive MCI than in cognitively normal subjects (P < 0.001 for both groups). We also found that plasma neuroexosomal NDUFS3 and SDHB levels were lower in progressive MCI subjects than in stable MCI subjects. Both plasma neuroexosomal NDUFS3 and SDHB offer diagnostic utility for AD. Low plasma neuroexosomal SDHB levels significantly predicted conversion from MCI to AD. In addition, low mitochondrial protein levels were associated with the rate of hippocampal and gray matter atrophy and reduced AD signature cortical thickness in progressive MCI over the follow-up period. These data suggest that both plasma neuroexosomal NDUFS3 and SDHB are already increased at the early clinical stage of AD, and indicate the promise of plasma neuroexosomal mitochondrial proteins as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for the earliest symptomatic stage of AD in participants with diabetes.

H.C. and R.Y. contributed equally to this work.

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