Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a leading cause of death and disability among older adults. Modifiable vascular risk factors for AD (VRF) include obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, and metabolic syndrome. Here, interactions between cerebrovascular function and development of AD are reviewed, as are interventions to improve cerebral blood flow and reduce VRF. Atherosclerosis and small vessel cerebral disease impair metabolic regulation of cerebral blood flow and, along with microvascular rarefaction and altered trans-capillary exchange, create conditions favoring AD development. Although currently there are no definitive therapies for treatment or prevention of AD, reduction of VRFs lowers the risk for cognitive decline. There is increasing evidence that brief repeated exposures to moderate hypoxia, i.e. intermittent hypoxic training (IHT), improve cerebral vascular function and reduce VRFs including systemic hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, and mental stress. In experimental AD, IHT nearly prevented endothelial dysfunction of both cerebral and extra-cerebral blood vessels, rarefaction of the brain vascular network, and the loss of neurons in the brain cortex. Associated with these vasoprotective effects, IHT improved memory and lessened AD pathology. IHT increases endothelial production of nitric oxide (NO), thereby increasing regional cerebral blood flow and augmenting the vaso- and neuroprotective effects of endothelial NO. On the other hand, in AD excessive production of NO in microglia, astrocytes, and cortical neurons generates neurotoxic peroxynitrite. IHT enhances storage of excessive NO in the form of S-nitrosothiols and dinitrosyl iron complexes. Oxidative stress plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of AD, and IHT reduces oxidative stress in a number of experimental pathologies. Beneficial effects of IHT in experimental neuropathologies other than AD, including dyscirculatory encephalopathy, ischemic stroke injury, audiogenic epilepsy, spinal cord injury, and alcohol withdrawal stress have also been reported. Further research on the potential benefits of IHT in AD and other brain pathologies is warranted.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; brain ischemia; cerebral circulation; cerebrovascular risk factors; cognitive function; intermittent hypoxia training; neurodegeneration; nitric oxide; nitrosative stress; oxidative stress; vasoprotection.
© 2016 by the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.