Impaired microvascular endothelial function may be implicated in the etiology of cognitive decline. Yet, current data on this association are inconsistent. Our objective is to investigate the relation of microvascular endothelial function to cognitive performance in the ELSA-Brasil cohort study. A total of 1521 participants from ELSA-Brasil free of dementia underwent peripheral arterial tonometry (PAT) to quantify microvascular endothelial function (PAT-ratio and mean baseline pulse amplitude (BPA)) and cognitive tests that covered the domains of memory, verbal fluency, and executive function at baseline. Cognitive tests in participants aged 55 years old and above were repeated during the second examination (mean follow-up: 3.5 (0.3) years). Linear regression and generalized linear models were used to evaluate the association between endothelial function, global cognitive performance, and performance on specific cognitive domains. In unadjusted cross-sectional analyses, we found that BPA and PAT-ratio were associated with worse global cognitive performance (mean difference for BPA: -0.07, 95% CI: -0.11; -0.03, p<0.01; mean difference for PAT-ratio: 0.11, 95% CI: 0.01; 0.20, p=0.02), worse performance on learning, recall, and word recognition tests (BPA: -0.87, 95% CI: -1.21; -0.52, p<0.01; PAT-ratio: 1.58, 95% CI: 0.80; 2.36, p<0.01), and only BPA was associated with worse performance in verbal fluency tests (-0.70, 95% CI: -1.19; -0.21, p<0.01). Adjustments for age, sex, and level of education rendered the associations statistically non-significant. Longitudinally, there was no association between microvascular endothelial and cognitive functions. The associations between microvascular endothelial function and cognition are explained by age, sex, and educational level. Measures of microvascular endothelial function may be of limited value with regard to preclinical cognitive deficits.
Keywords: cognition; endothelial function; epidemiology; microcirculation; risk factors.