The blood-brain barrier and cerebrovascular pathology in Alzheimer's disease

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;893:113-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb07821.x.


The pathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is not limited to amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Recent evidence suggests that more than 30% of AD cases exhibit cerebrovascular pathology, which involves the cellular elements that represent the blood-brain barrier. Certain vascular lesions such as microvascular degeneration affecting the cerebral endothelium, cerebral amyloid angiopathy and periventricular white matter lesions are evident in virtually all cases of AD. Furthermore, clinical studies have demonstrated blood-brain barrier dysfunction in AD patients who exhibit peripheral vascular abnormalities such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Whether these vascular lesions along with perivascular denervation are coincidental or causal in the pathogenetic processes of AD remains to be defined. In this chapter, I review biochemical and morphological evidence in context with the variable but distinct cerebrovascular pathology described in AD. I also consider genetic influences such as apolipoprotein E in relation to cerebrovascular lesions that may shed light on the pathophysiology of the cerebral vasculature. The compelling vascular pathology associated with AD suggests that transient and focal breach of the blood-brain barrier occurs in late onset AD and may involve an interaction of several factors, which include perivascular mediators as well as peripheral circulation derived factors that perturb the endothelium. These vascular abnormalities are likely to worsen cognitive disability in AD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Humans
  • Microcirculation / pathology