Reduced basal macrovascular and microvascular cerebral blood flow in young adults with metabolic syndrome: potential mechanisms

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2023 Jul 1;135(1):94-108. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00688.2022. Epub 2023 May 18.


Ninety-million Americans suffer metabolic syndrome (MetSyn), increasing the risk of diabetes and poor brain outcomes, including neuropathology linked to lower cerebral blood flow (CBF), predominantly in anterior regions. We tested the hypothesis that total and regional CBF is lower in MetSyn more so in the anterior brain and explored three potential mechanisms. Thirty-four controls (25 ± 5 yr) and 19 MetSyn (30 ± 9 yr), with no history of cardiovascular disease/medications, underwent four-dimensional flow magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to quantify macrovascular CBF, whereas arterial spin labeling quantified brain perfusion in a subset (n = 38/53). Contributions of cyclooxygenase (COX; n = 14), nitric oxide synthase (NOS, n = 17), or endothelin receptor A signaling (n = 13) were tested with indomethacin, NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA), and Ambrisentan, respectively. Total CBF was 20 ± 16% lower in MetSyn (725 ± 116 vs. 582 ± 119 mL/min, P < 0.001). Anterior and posterior brain regions were 17 ± 18% and 30 ± 24% lower in MetSyn; reductions were not different between regions (P = 0.112). Global perfusion was 16 ± 14% lower in MetSyn (44 ± 7 vs. 36 ± 5 mL/100 g/min, P = 0.002) and regionally in frontal, occipital, parietal, and temporal lobes (range 15-22%). The decrease in CBF with L-NMMA (P = 0.004) was not different between groups (P = 0.244, n = 14, 3), and Ambrisentan had no effect on either group (P = 0.165, n = 9, 4). Interestingly, indomethacin reduced CBF more in Controls in the anterior brain (P = 0.041), but CBF decrease in posterior was not different between groups (P = 0.151, n = 8, 6). These data indicate that adults with MetSyn exhibit substantially reduced brain perfusion without regional differences. Moreover, this reduction is not due to loss of NOS or gain of ET-1 signaling but rather a loss of COX vasodilation.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We tested the impact of insulin resistance (IR) on resting cerebral blood flow (CBF) in adults with metabolic syndrome (MetSyn). Using MRI and research pharmaceuticals to study the role of NOS, ET-1, or COX signaling, we found that adults with MetSyn exhibit substantially lower CBF that is not explained by changes in NOS or ET-1 signaling. Interestingly, adults with MetSyn show a loss of COX-mediated vasodilation in the anterior but not posterior circulation.

Keywords: MRI; cerebral blood flow; cyclooxygenase; nitric oxide synthase; prediabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Indomethacin
  • Metabolic Syndrome*
  • Young Adult
  • omega-N-Methylarginine


  • omega-N-Methylarginine
  • ambrisentan
  • Indomethacin