Vascular pathology in Alzheimer disease: correlation of cerebral amyloid angiopathy and arteriosclerosis/lipohyalinosis with cognitive decline

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2003 Dec;62(12):1287-301. doi: 10.1093/jnen/62.12.1287.


Sporadic, late-onset Alzheimer disease (AD) constitutes the most frequent cause of dementia in the elderly population. AD-related pathology is often accompanied by vascular changes. The predominant vascular lesions in AD are cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) and arteriosclerosis/lipohyalinosis (AS/LH). The present study was carried out to examine the coincidence of these small vessel pathologies during the development of cognitive deficits, amyloid beta-protein (A beta) deposition, and neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) formation in sporadic late-onset AD. We correlated the clinical dementia rating (CDR) score, the sequential extension of AD-related A beta deposition into different parts of the brain, and the extension of NFTs to involve more brain regions with the distribution of CAA and AS/LH in 52 human autopsy brains. The extension of CAA and AS/LH to involve different areas of the brain was associated with a rise of CDR scores and an increase in the extension of A beta deposition and NFT generation. AD cases showed a higher number of regions with CAA and AS/LH compared to nondemented patients with AD-related pathology and controls. Moreover, we demonstrated a hierarchical sequence in which the different regions of the brain exhibited CAA and AS/LH-affected vessels, allowing the distinction of 3 stages in the development of CAA and AS/LH. The first stage of CAA involved leptomeningeal and neocortical vessels. The second stage was characterized by additional A beta deposition in allocortical and midbrain vessels. Finally, in a third stage, CAA was observed in the basal ganglia, the thalamus, and in the lower brainstem. In contrast, AS/LH initially affected the basal ganglia in stage A. In stage B this pathology made inroads into the deep white matter, the leptomeningeal arteries of the cortex, the cerebellum, and into the thalamus. Stage C was characterized by AS/LH in brainstem vessels. Our results demonstrate widespread CAA and AS/LH to be associated with the development of cognitive deficits in AD. A combination of both CAA and AS/LH may, therefore, contribute to neurodegeneration in AD. These data also suggest that small vessel disease due to arteriosclerosis and fibrolipohyalinosis is a potential target for the treatment of AD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy / pathology*
  • Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / pathology*
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged