Researchers this week revealed new research showing that blood vessels in the brain may be associated with Alzheimer's disease. The new study has shown that specific brain blood vessel cells could prove useful for the diagnoses and/or treatment of the disease.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, looked at the connection between Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Where Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia in humans, vascular dementia is the second leading cause of the condition. Alzheimer's is characterized by a build-up of beta-amyloid plaques but many Alzheimer's patients also exhibit signs of vascular disease, suggesting that Alzheimer's may be connected somehow to blood vessel degeneration.
By studying the brain blood vessels of mice, researchers have come closer to understanding how blood vessel health could contribute to Alzheimer's disease. The study's authors cross-bred mice to show that blood vessel cells called pericytes could play a major role in the development of Alzheimer's. Pericytes act as gatekeepers to the blood-brain barrier and the new research suggests that lower levels of pericytes could bean beta-amyloid plaques are cleared from the brain at a slower rate.
“Our results suggest that damage to the vascular system may be a critical step in the development of full-blown Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” said Dr. Berislav Zlokovic, a co-author of the study and director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the University of Southern California.
The study's authors believe their results show how decreased levels of pericytes caused by blood vessel damage could be instrumental in Alzheimer's disease. As plaques form in the brain they could further harm blood vessels, causing pericytes to further decrease and hastening along progression of Alzheimer's. Zlokovic and his colleagues believe this means the blood-brain barrier should be considered as a target for Alzheimer's treatment.