Introduction: Carnosine can suppress secondary complications in diabetes and show robust neuroprotective activity against neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we report that carnosine ameliorates diabetes-associated cognitive decline in vivo through the modulation of autophagy. Methods: A high-fat diet (HFD) and one intraperitoneal injection of 30 mg/kg streptozotocin (STZ) were used to induce type 2 diabetes mellitus in Sprague-Dawley rats. The rats were randomly divided into five groups: control (CON), HFD/STZ, and three intragastric carnosine treatment groups receiving low (100 mg/kg), medium (300 mg/kg), and high (900 mg/kg) doses over 12 weeks. Body weight, blood glucose levels, and cognitive function were continuously monitored. From excised rat hippocampi, we determined superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels; carnosine concentration; protein expressions of Akt, mTOR and the autophagy markers LC3B and P62 and performed histopathological evaluations of the cornu ammonis 1 region. Results: The HFD/STZ group showed increased blood glucose levels and decreased body weight compared to the CON group. However, there were no significant differences in body weight and blood glucose levels between carnosine-treated and -untreated HFD-STZ-induced diabetic rats. Diabetic animals showed obvious learning and memory impairments in the Morris water maze test compared to the CON group. Compared to those in the HFD/STZ group, carnosine increased SOD activity and decreased MDA levels, increased hippocampal carnosine concentration, increased p-Akt and p-mTOR expression, decreased LC3B and P62 expression, alleviated neuronal injuries, and improved cognitive performance in a dose-dependent manner. Conclusion: Independent of any hyperglycemic effect, carnosine may improve mild cognitive impairments by mitigating oxidative stress, activating the Akt/mTOR pathway, and modulating autophagy in the hippocampus of type 2 diabetic rats.

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