Review: cerebral microvascular pathology in ageing and neurodegeneration

Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2011 Feb;37(1):56-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2990.2010.01139.x.


This review of age-related brain microvascular pathologies focuses on topics studied by this laboratory, including anatomy of the blood supply, tortuous vessels, venous collagenosis, capillary remnants, vascular density and microembolic brain injury. Our studies feature thick sections, large blocks embedded in celloidin, and vascular staining by alkaline phosphatase. This permits study of the vascular network in three dimensions, and the differentiation of afferent from efferent vessels. Current evidence suggests that there is decreased vascular density in ageing, Alzheimer's disease and leukoaraiosis, and cerebrovascular dysfunction precedes and accompanies cognitive dysfunction and neurodegeneration. A decline in cerebrovascular angiogenesis may inhibit recovery from hypoxia-induced capillary loss. Cerebral blood flow is inhibited by tortuous arterioles and deposition of excessive collagen in veins and venules. Misery perfusion due to capillary loss appears to occur before cell loss in leukoaraiosis, and cerebral blood flow is also reduced in the normal-appearing white matter. Hypoperfusion occurs early in Alzheimer's disease, inducing white matter lesions and correlating with dementia. In vascular dementia, cholinergic reductions are correlated with cognitive impairment, and cholinesterase inhibitors have some benefit. Most lipid microemboli from cardiac surgery pass through the brain in a few days, but some remain for weeks. They can cause what appears to be a type of vascular dementia years after surgery. Donepezil has shown some benefit. Emboli, such as clots, cholesterol crystals and microspheres can be extruded through the walls of cerebral vessels, but there is no evidence yet that lipid emboli undergo such extravasation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Arterioles / pathology
  • Basement Membrane / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Capillaries / pathology*
  • Cerebral Veins / pathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Cholinergic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cholinergic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Dementia, Vascular / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / pathology
  • Hypoxia / etiology
  • Hypoxia / pathology
  • Intracranial Embolism / pathology
  • Leukoaraiosis / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology


  • Cholinergic Agents
  • Collagen