Heart disease can cause brain dysfunction that leads to dementia, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Sheffield. This is due to plaque buildup found in the brain’s blood vessels.
Heart disease triggers a breakdown of the key brain function that connects brain activity and blood flow, leaving the brain with less blood than it needs to perform the same activities. Noted by researchers as a “prelude to dementia,” patients with heart disease experience this breakdown of brain function before fat buildup occurs in the blood vessels of the brain (atherosclerosis).
These findings are the first to identify how certain forms of vascular dementia can occur even years prior to atherosclerosis.
Researchers also found that patients with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease and also have heart disease show three times the amount of beta-amyloid. This is a protein that builds up and triggers Alzheimer’s, and also raises the levels of IL1, an inflammatory gene in the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia worldwide and heart disease is a major risk factor for both Alzheimer’s and dementia. The new findings are key to furthering our understanding of the links between heart disease and dementia,” says Dr. Osman Shabir, lead author of the study from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience and Healthy Lifespan Institute, in a statement. “We’ve discovered that heart disease in midlife causes the breakdown of neurovascular coupling, an important mechanism in our brains which controls the amount of blood supplied to our neurons. This breakdown means the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen when needed and in time this can lead to dementia.”
Future research will be required to understand more of the connection between heart disease and degenerative brain dysfunction. Researchers involved in this study have been awarded a three year grant from the British Heart Foundation to continue their study, examining an arthritis drug targeting IL1 for potential capabilities to reduce—or reverse altogether—brain dysfunction triggered by heart disease.
This study is published in eLife.
Article written by Anna Landry