Contributions of Aging to Cerebral Small Vessel Disease

Annu Rev Physiol. 2020 Feb 10:82:275-295. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021119-034338. Epub 2019 Oct 16.


Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is characterized by changes in the pial and parenchymal microcirculations. SVD produces reductions in cerebral blood flow and impaired blood-brain barrier function, which are leading contributors to age-related reductions in brain health. End-organ effects are diverse, resulting in both cognitive and noncognitive deficits. Underlying phenotypes and mechanisms are multifactorial, with no specific treatments at this time. Despite consequences that are already considerable, the impact of SVD is predicted to increase substantially with the growing aging population. In the face of this health challenge, the basic biology, pathogenesis, and determinants of SVD are poorly defined. This review summarizes recent progress and concepts in this area, highlighting key findings and some major unanswered questions. We focus on phenotypes and mechanisms that underlie microvascular aging, the greatest risk factor for cerebrovascular disease and its subsequent effects.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier; cerebral blood flow; endothelium; microcirculation; nitric oxide.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Capillaries / growth & development
  • Capillaries / pathology
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Humans