We tested the hypothesis that apneas during the sleep cycle exacerbate hypertension and accelerate changes that occur with cerebral small vessel disease. Obstructive sleep apnea was modeled by intermittent inflations of a chronically implanted tracheal balloon to occlude the airway during the sleep cycle (termed OSA) in spontaneously hypertensive stroke-prone (SHRSP) rats, a model of cerebral small vessel disease. SHRSP rats and their parent strain, Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats, were exposed to OSA for 2 weeks (from 9 to 11 or from 18 to 20 weeks). At 9 weeks, hypertension was developing in the SHRSP rats and was firmly established by 18 weeks. OSA exposure increased systolic blood pressure in SHRSP rats by ≈30 mm Hg in both age groups compared with shams that were surgically prepared but not exposed to OSA (P<0.05). OSA exposure also increased systolic blood pressure in WKY rats by 20 and 37 mm Hg at 11 and 20 weeks, respectively (P<0.05). OSA exposure in SHRSP rats compromised blood-brain barrier integrity in white matter at both 11 and 20 weeks of age when compared with SHRSP sham rats (P<0.05). Microglia were activated in SHRSP rats exposed to OSA but not in sham rats at 11 weeks (P<0.05). At 20 weeks, microglia were activated in sham SHRSP rats (P<0.05) compared with WKY sham rats and were not further activated by OSA. Neither was blood-brain barrier integrity altered nor microglia activated in any of the WKY groups. We conclude that OSA accelerates the onset of the cerebral pathologies associated with cerebral small vessel disease in SHRSP, but not WKY, rats.
Keywords: blood–brain barrier; cerebral small vessel disease; obstructive sleep apnea; stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats; vascular cognitive impairment.
© 2015 American Heart Association, Inc.