mTOR Attenuation with Rapamycin Reverses Neurovascular Uncoupling and Memory Deficits in Mice Modeling Alzheimer's Disease

J Neurosci. 2021 May 12;41(19):4305-4320. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2144-20.2021. Epub 2021 Apr 22.


Vascular dysfunction is a universal feature of aging and decreased cerebral blood flow has been identified as an early event in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Cerebrovascular dysfunction in AD includes deficits in neurovascular coupling (NVC), a mechanism that ensures rapid delivery of energy substrates to active neurons through the blood supply. The mechanisms underlying NVC impairment in AD, however, are not well understood. We have previously shown that mechanistic/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) drives cerebrovascular dysfunction in models of AD by reducing the activity of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), and that attenuation of mTOR activity with rapamycin is sufficient to restore eNOS-dependent cerebrovascular function. Here we show mTOR drives NVC impairments in an AD model through the inhibition of neuronal NOS (nNOS)- and non-NOS-dependent components of NVC, and that mTOR attenuation with rapamycin is sufficient to restore NVC and even enhance it above WT responses. Restoration of NVC and concomitant reduction of cortical amyloid-β levels effectively treated memory deficits in 12-month-old hAPP(J20) mice. These data indicate that mTOR is a critical driver of NVC dysfunction and underlies cognitive impairment in an AD model. Together with our previous findings, the present studies suggest that mTOR promotes cerebrovascular dysfunction in AD, which is associated with early disruption of nNOS activation, through its broad negative impact on nNOS as well as on non-NOS components of NVC. Our studies highlight the potential of mTOR attenuation as an efficacious treatment for AD and potentially other neurologic diseases of aging.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Failure of the blood flow response to neuronal activation [neurovascular coupling (NVC)] in a model of AD precedes the onset of AD-like cognitive symptoms and is driven, to a large extent, by mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)-dependent inhibition of nitric oxide synthase activity. Our studies show that mTOR also drives AD-like failure of non-nitric oxide (NO)-mediated components of NVC. Thus, mTOR attenuation may serve to treat AD, where we find that neuronal NO synthase is profoundly reduced early in disease progression, and potentially other neurologic diseases of aging with cerebrovascular dysfunction as part of their etiology.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; cerebral blood flow; cerebrovascular dysfunction; mTOR; nNOS; neurovascular coupling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / genetics
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / genetics
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microvessels / pathology
  • Microvessels / ultrastructure
  • Neurovascular Coupling / drug effects*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics


  • APP protein, mouse
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Nos3 protein, mouse
  • mTOR protein, mouse
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Sirolimus