January 24, 2023

How arterial “stiffness” may impair cognition

New findings from Vanderbilt neurologists suggest that cardiovascular disease may increase the spaces surrounding blood vessels in the brain and lead to cognitive decline.

Small vessel disease (SVD) is associated with cognitive decline and development of dementia. Enlargement of the perivascular spaces (ePVS) surrounding blood vessels in the brain may be a marker of SVD.  

Angela Jefferson, PhD, and colleagues developed a novel machine-learning technique that enabled them to quantify ePVS volume from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the basal ganglia, the part of the brain which plays a crucial role in information processing and executive function 

In a longitudinal study of 327 older adults in the Vanderbilt Memory & Aging Project, about half of whom had mild cognitive impairment, the researchers correlated increased ePVS burden in the basal ganglia with impaired executive function and cognition. Using cardiac MRI, they also found that a rise in aortic pulse wave velocity, a measure of arterial stiffness, was associated with increased ePVS count and volume. 

Their paper, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, suggests that cardiovascular disease, by increasing ePVS volume, may lead to cognitive decline.

Co-authors include first-author Corey Bown, Omair Khan, MS, Dandan Liu, PhD, Samuel Remedios, Kimberly R. Pechman, PhD, James Terry, MS, Sangeeta Nair, DVM, MS, Taylor Davis, MD, Bennett Landman, PhD, Katherine Gifford, PsyD, Timothy Hohman, PhD, and John Jeffrey Carr, MD. 

This work was supported in part by the Alzheimer’s Association, and by National Institute of Health awards AG066358, AG034962, NS100980, AG046373, AG045966, and AG049164.