Hypertension, dietary salt and cognitive impairment

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2018 Dec;38(12):2112-2128. doi: 10.1177/0271678X18803374. Epub 2018 Oct 8.


Dementia is growing at an alarming rate worldwide. Although Alzheimer disease is the leading cause, over 50% of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer disease have vascular lesions at autopsy. There has been an increasing appreciation of the pathogenic role of vascular risk factors in cognitive impairment caused by neurodegeneration. Midlife hypertension is a leading risk factor for late-life dementia. Hypertension alters cerebrovascular structure, impairs the major factors regulating the cerebral microcirculation, and promotes Alzheimer pathology. Experimental studies have identified brain perivascular macrophages as the major free radical source mediating neurovascular dysfunction of hypertension. Recent evidence indicates that high dietary salt may also induce cognitive impairment. Contrary to previous belief, the effect is not necessarily associated with hypertension and is mediated by a deficit in endothelial nitric oxide. Collectively, the evidence suggests a remarkable cellular diversity of the impact of vascular risk factors on the cerebral vasculature and cognition. Whereas long-term longitudinal epidemiological studies are needed to resolve the temporal relationships between vascular risk factors and cognitive dysfunction, single-cell molecular studies of the vasculature in animal models will provide a fuller mechanistic understanding. This knowledge is critical for developing new preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic approaches for these devastating diseases of the mind.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; cerebrovascular disease; dementia; endothelial dysfunction; neurovascular coupling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / complications*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications*
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Neurovascular Coupling
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / adverse effects*


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary