Antihypertensive Treatment is associated with MRI-Derived Markers of Neurodegeneration and Impaired Cognition: A Propensity-Weighted Cohort Study

J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;59(3):1113-1122. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170238.


Background: Hypertension is an important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD) and cerebral small vessel disease. Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are common anti-hypertensive treatments, but have differential effects on cortical amyloid.

Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate associations between anti-hypertensive treatment, brain volume, and cognition, using a propensity-weighted analysis to account for confounding by indication.

Methods: We identified a cohort of normal elderly adults and individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD (N = 886; mean age = 75.0) from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Primary outcomes were brain parenchymal fraction, total hippocampal volume, and white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume. Secondary outcomes were standardized scores on neuropsychological tests. Propensity-weighted adjusted multivariate linear regression was used to estimate associations between anti-hypertensive treatment class and MRI volumes and cognition.

Results: Individuals treated with ARBs showed larger hippocampal volumes (R2 = 0.83, p = 0.05) and brain parenchymal fraction (R2 = 0.83, p = 0.01) than those treated with ACEIs. When stratified by diagnosis, this effect remained only in normal elderly adults and MCI patients, and a significant association between ARBs and lower WMH volume (R2 = 0.83, p = 0.03) emerged for AD patients only. ARBs were also associated with significantly better performance on tests of episodic and verbal memory, language, and executive function (all p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Findings are consistent with evidence for a neuroprotective effect of treatment with ARBs for brain structure and cognition. This study has potential implications for the treatment of hypertension, particularly in elderly adults at risk of cognitive decline and AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors; angiotensin receptor blockers; hypertension; white matter hyperintensities.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control*
  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / drug effects
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / diagnostic imaging
  • Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Antihypertensive Agents