Harvard Heart Letter

Research we're watching: Stiffer arteries linked to amyloid plaques in the brain

High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stiffening of the arteries are well-known contributors to cardiovascular disease. These same factors may also promote the development of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. In a study published in Neurology, researchers conducted brain scans on 91 elderly men and women. Although none of the participants showed signs of dementia, about half had significant amounts of amyloid deposits in their brains.

Study participants also underwent tests for cardiovascular health. One measured arterial stiffness, an indicator of the health of the body's vascular system. People with the stiffest arteries showed more amyloid plaque in the brain as well as a greater number of lesions in brain's "white matter," a marker of trouble in the small arteries.

The study suggests clues about the relationship between amyloid protein and Alzheimer's disease. Many people with significant amounts of amyloid in their brains do not exhibit symptoms of dementia. Yet aging can sometimes trigger cognitive decline in these individuals. The study authors speculate that the double hit of amyloid deposits and vascular disease may ultimately tip the scales toward dementia.?

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