Cerebral hemodynamics and vascular risk factors: setting the stage for Alzheimer's disease

J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;32(3):553-67. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2012-120793.


Considerable information is currently available from neuroimaging, pathological, and population-based prospective studies showing that vascular risk factors are independently associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Many of these studies indicate that vascular risk factors can predict the clinical development of cognitive dysfunction and AD onset. This review examines the role of cerebral hemodynamics and vasoactive molecules that contribute to the regulation of cerebral perfusion and how three common vascular risk factors to AD, namely, hypertension, diabetes type 2, and atherosclerosis, can alter cerebral blood flow (CBF) regulation and generate perfusion pressure deficits. It is proposed that these vascular risk factors (and presumably other vascular risk factors) initiate chronic brain hypoperfusion that ultimately impair signaling from neurons, astrocytes, and endothelial cells to vascular smooth muscle controlling vessel diameter. Impaired signaling involving vascular pathways in the elderly can attenuate vessel tone and deregulate CBF. Noxious cerebral hemodynamic responses to vascular risk factors and chronic brain hypoperfusion are partly explained by Poiseuille's Law which states that miniscule changes in vessel diameter can have a dramatic effect on vessel resistance and on the rate of blood flow. Using Poiseuille's model, even minor narrowing of arteriolar diameter can lead to major reductions in CBF and in suboptimal delivery of high energy nutrients to the brain, with lethal consequences to brain cells that participate in cognitive function. Regional brain cell loss sets the stage for age-related cognitive impairment and AD onset. Keeping cerebral hemodynamic homeostasis by careful management of vascular risk factors could be a decisive therapeutic target in the prevention of AD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / epidemiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Dementia, Vascular / epidemiology
  • Dementia, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / epidemiology
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors