Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome is named after Carl Wernicke and Sergei Korsakoff, the physicians who discovered the condition in the late 1800s.
Wernicke's encephalopathy is the acute, reversible stage of the syndrome, and if left untreated it can later lead to Korsakoff syndrome, which is chronic and irreversible.
The enzyme thiamine pyrophosphate synthetase transfers a pyrophosphate group from ATP to thiamine, turning it into the coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate - which is the metabolically active form of thiamine.
Now, as a coenzyme, thiamine pyrophosphate functions to assist other enzymes such as pyruvate dehydrogenase, alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase, and transketolase carry out reactions, particularly regarding glucose metabolism.
In some neurons, thiamine even helps with propagation of a neural impulses down the axon.
Given it’s multifaceted role, a deficiency of thiamine can have serious consequences.
Specifically, thiamine deficiency impairs glucose metabolism and this leads to a decrease in cellular energy.
One of the major causes of thiamine deficiency, and therefore Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome, is alcohol abuse.
Alcohol leads to decreased thiamine levels in various ways. First, alcohol interferes with the conversion of thiamine to its active form, thiamine pyrophosphate by blocking the phosphorylation of thiamine.
The brain is particularly vulnerable to impaired glucose metabolism since it utilizes so much energy.
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