Oct 06, 2023

The link between blood vessel breakdown and Alzheimer’s disease

Research findings suggest early interventions to improve blood vessel health offer an avenue for the advancement of new treatments for Alzheimer's disease. [Source: Shuttersock]

Key points:

  • A research study published in the journal GeroScience found the presence of senescent blood vessel cells in both Alzheimer’s patients and mouse models of Alzheimer’s. Senescent cells are aged cells that have lost their ability to divide and function properly
  • The blood-brain barrier serves as a protective barrier, stopping inflammatory molecules and toxic substances from entering the brain via the bloodstream. Issues can arise if the barrier becomes permeable, ‘leaking’ these toxins into the brain
  • Researchers believe senescent blood vessel cells weaken the blood-brain barrier, making it more susceptible to inflammatory and toxic substances, potentially exacerbating Alzheimer’s symptoms as the disease advances

Researchers at the Centenary Institute have discovered a connection between the health of blood vessels and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctor Ka Ka Ting, the lead author of the study and a researcher in the Centenary Institute’s Healthy Ageing Centre said that specific blood vessel cells, called endothelial and perivascular cells, play a crucial role in forming the blood-brain barrier – a shield guarding the brain against harmful substances.

Dementia Australia’s Honorary Medical Advisor Associate Professor Michael Woodward said we need a strong supply of blood to the brain to maintain cognition and evidence suggests that when blood vessels to the brain are not functioning well, there can be impacts on how we think, remember and make decisions.

“That can also have a significant impact on the brain’s function including cognitive function.”

During their study, Centenary Institute researchers found a notable increase in the number of senescent blood vessel cells in and around the blood-brain barrier and linked with areas of leak during the development of Alzheimer’s in mouse models.

Based on their discoveries, the researchers believe that early intervention targeting blood vessel health could hold promise in Alzheimer’s treatment. This could involve developing medications that specifically target senescent cells of the blood-brain barrier.

“Our study provides a new perspective on Alzheimer’s and the intricate relationship with brain blood vessels, offering a promising new path for therapeutic approaches aimed at treating this disease,” Dr Ting said.

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Lead study author and Centenary Institute's Healthy Ageing Centre researcher Dr Ka Ka Ting. [Source: Supplied]

Prof Woodward suggested that there’s a lot more we can do to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s “apart from waiting for the magic bullet to be provided by the pharmaceutical industry.”

“It would be safe to say that most people do agree that vascular disease is a contributor to the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, even if it’s not the main cause […] exercise does affect the integrity and the effectiveness of our blood vessels. We also need to make sure that specific risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, et cetera, are detected and managed well.”

For support, please contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or find more information at dementia.org.au. 

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