The neuropathology and cerebrovascular mechanisms of dementia

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2016 Jan;36(1):172-86. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2015.164.


The prevalence of dementia is increasing in our aging population at an alarming rate. Because of the heterogeneity of clinical presentation and complexity of disease neuropathology, dementia classifications remain controversial. Recently, the National Plan to address Alzheimer’s Disease prioritized Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias to include: Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and mixed dementias. While each of these dementing conditions has their unique pathologic signature, one common etiology shared among all these conditions is cerebrovascular dysfunction at some point during the disease process. The goal of this comprehensive review is to summarize the current findings in the field and address the important contributions of cerebrovascular, physiologic, and cellular alterations to cognitive impairment in these human dementias. Specifically, evidence will be presented in support of small-vessel disease as an underlying neuropathologic hallmark of various dementias, while controversial findings will also be highlighted. Finally, the molecular mechanisms shared among all dementia types including hypoxia, oxidative stress, mitochondrial bioenergetics, neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, and blood–brain barrier permeability responsible for disease etiology and progression will be discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / complications*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / pathology*
  • Dementia / epidemiology
  • Dementia / etiology*
  • Dementia / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lewy Bodies / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / complications
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / epidemiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / complications
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / pathology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors