Posts Tagged ‘cerebral blood flow’

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator




In addition to the many cellular insults which may contribute to neurodegeneration, there is also a wealth of evidence which suggests that dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier and other CNS vascular insults may also play a key role in Alzheimer’s Disease pathogenesis. This review from Berislav Zlokovic describes much of the recent work into understand how BBB dysfunction contributes to neurodegeneration.    By Tim Spencer on 24 Nov, 2015


Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

Berislav V. Zlokovic    About the author

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011 Nov 3;12(12):723-38.


The neurovascular unit (NVU) comprises brain endothelial cells, pericytes or vascular smooth muscle cells, glia and neurons. The NVU controls blood–brain barrier (BBB) permeability and cerebral blood flow, and maintains the chemical composition of the neuronal ‘milieu’, which is required for proper functioning of neuronal circuits. Recent evidence indicates that BBB dysfunction is associated with the accumulation of several vasculotoxic and neurotoxic molecules within brain parenchyma, a reduction in cerebral blood flow, and hypoxia. Together, these vascular-derived insults might initiate and/or contribute to neuronal degeneration. This article examines mechanisms of BBB dysfunction in neurodegenerative disorders, notably Alzheimer’s disease, and highlights therapeutic opportunities relating to these neurovascular deficits.



Neurons depend on blood vessels for their oxygen and nutrient supplies, and for the removal of carbon dioxide and other potentially toxic metabolites from the brain’s interstitial fluid (ISF). The importance of the circulatory system to the human brain is highlighted by the fact that although the brain comprises ~2% of total body mass, it receives up to 20% of cardiac output and is responsible for ~20% and ~25% of the body’s oxygen consumption and glucose consumption, respectively1. To underline this point, when cerebral blood flow (CBF) stops, brain functions end within seconds and damage to neurons occurs within minutes2.

Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are associated with microvascular dysfunction and/or degeneration in the brain, neurovascular disintegration, defective blood–brain barrier (BBB) function and/or vascular factors1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Microvascular deficits diminish CBF and, consequently, the brain’s supply of oxygen, energy substrates and nutrients. Moreover, such deficits impair the clearance of neurotoxic molecules that accumulate and/or are deposited in the ISF, non-neuronal cells and neurons. Recent evidence suggests that vascular dysfunction leads to neuronal dysfunction and neurodegeneration, and that it might contribute to the development of proteinaceous brain and cerebrovascular ‘storage’ disorders. Such disorders include cerebral β-amyloidosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), which are caused by accumulation of the peptide amyloid-β in the brain and the vessel wall, respectively, and are features of Alzheimer’s disease1.

In this Review, I will discuss neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration, placing a focus on Alzheimer’s disease because more is known about neurovascular dysfunction in this disease than in other neurodegenerative disorders. The article first examines transport mechanisms for molecules to cross the BBB, before exploring the processes that are involved in BBB breakdown at the molecular and cellular levels, and the consequences of BBB breakdown, hypoperfusion, and hypoxia and endothelial metabolic dysfunction for neuronal function. Next, the article reviews evidence for neurovascular changes during normal ageing and neurovascular BBB dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases, including evidence suggesting that vascular defects precede neuronal changes. Finally, the article considers specific mechanisms that are associated with BBB dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, and therapeutic opportunities relating to these neurovascular deficits.

The neurovascular unit

The neurovascular unit (NVU) comprises vascular cells (that is, endothelium, pericytes and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs)), glial cells (that is, astrocytes, microglia and oliogodendroglia) and neurons1, 2, 13 (Fig. 1). In the NVU, the endothelial cells together form a highly specialized membrane around blood vessels. This membrane underlies the BBB and limits the entry of plasma components, red blood cells (RBCs) and leukocytes into the brain. The BBB also regulates the delivery into the CNS of circulating energy metabolites and essential nutrients that are required for proper neuronal and synaptic function. Non-neuronal cells and neurons act in concert to control BBB permeability and CBF. Vascular cells and glia are primarily responsible for maintenance of the constant ‘chemical’ composition of the ISF, and the BBB and the blood–spinal cord barrier (BSCB) work together with pericytes to prevent various potentially neurotoxic and vasculotoxic macromolecules in the blood from entering the CNS, and to promote clearance of these substances from the CNS1.

Figure 1 | Cerebral microcirculation and the neurovascular unit.

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders

In the brain, pial arteries run through the subarachnoid space (SAS), which contains the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These vessels give rise to intracerebral arteries, which penetrate into brain parenchyma. Intracerebral arteries are separated from brain parenchyma by a single, interrupted layer of elongated fibroblast-like cells of the pia and the astrocyte-derived glia limitans membrane that forms the outer wall of the perivascular Virchow–Robin space. These arteries branch into smaller arteries and subsequently arterioles, which lose support from the glia limitans and give rise to pre-capillary arterioles and brain capillaries. In an intracerebral artery, the vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) layer occupies most of the vessel wall. At the brain capillary level, vascular endothelial cells and pericytes are attached to the basement membrane. Pericyte processes encase most of the capillary wall, and they communicate with endothelial cells directly through synapse-like contacts containing connexins and N-cadherin. Astrocyte end-foot processes encase the capillary wall, which is composed of endothelium and pericytes. Resting microglia have a ‘ramified’ shape and can sense neuronal injury.

Transport across the blood–brain barrier. The endothelial cells that form the BBB are connected by tight and adherens junctions, and it is the tight junctions that confer the low paracellular permeability of the BBB1. Small lipophilic molecules, oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse freely across the endothelial cells, and hence the BBB, but normal brain endothelium lacks fenestrae and has limited vesicular transport.

The high number of mitochondria in endothelial cells reflects a high energy demand for active ATP-dependent transport, conferred by transporters such as the sodium pump ((Na++K+)ATPase) and the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) efflux transporters. Sodium influx and potassium efflux across the abluminal side of the BBB is controlled by (Na++K+)ATPase (Fig. 2). Changes in sodium and potassium levels in the ISF influence the generation of action potentials in neurons and thus directly affect neuronal and synaptic functions1, 12.

Figure 2 | Blood–brain barrier transport mechanisms.

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders

Small lipophilic drugs, oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse across the blood–brain barrier (BBB), whereas ions require ATP-dependent transporters such as the (Na++K+)ATPase. Transporters for nutrients include the glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1; also known as solute carrier family 2, facilitated glucose transporter member 1 (SLC2A1)), the lactate transporter monocarboxylate transporter 1 (MCT1) and the L1 and y+ transporters for large neutral and cationic essential amino acids, respectively. These four transporters are expressed at both the luminal and albuminal membranes. Non-essential amino acid transporters (the alanine, serine and cysteine preferring system (ASC), and the alanine preferring system (A)) and excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (EAAT1), EAAT2 and EAAT3 are located at the abluminal side. The ATP-binding cassette (ABC) efflux transporters that are found in the endothelial cells include multidrug resistance protein 1 (ABCB1; also known as ATP-binding cassette subfamily B member 1) and solute carrier organic anion transporter family member 1C1 (OATP1C1). Finally, transporters for peptides or proteins include the endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR) for activated protein C (APC); the insulin receptors (IRs) and the transferrin receptors (TFRs), which are associated with caveolin 1 (CAV1); low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1) for amyloid-β, peptide transport system 1 (PTS1) for encephalins; and the PTS2 and PTS4–vasopressin V1a receptor (V1AR) for arginine vasopressin.

Brain endothelial cells express transporters that facilitate the transport of nutrients down their concentration gradients, as described in detail elsewhere1, 14 (Fig. 2). Glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1; also known as solute carrier family 2, facilitated glucose transporter member 1 (SLC2A1)) — the BBB-specific glucose transporter — is of special importance because glucose is a key energy source for the brain.

Monocarboxylate transporter 1 (MCT1), which transports lactate, and the L1 and y+ amino acid transporters are expressed at the luminal and abluminal membranes12, 14. Sodium-dependent excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (EAAT1), EAAT2 and EAAT3 are expressed at the abluminal side of the BBB15 and enable removal of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, from the brain (Fig. 2). Glutamate clearance at the BBB is essential for protecting neurons from overstimulation of glutaminergic receptors, which is neurotoxic16.

ABC transporters limit the penetration of many drugs into the brain17. For example, multidrug resistance protein 1 (ABCB1; also known as ATP-binding cassette subfamily B member 1) controls the rapid removal of ingested toxic lipophilic metabolites17 (Fig. 2). Some ABC transporters also mediate the efflux of nutrients from the endothelium into the ISF. For example, solute carrier organic anion transporter family member 1C1 (OATP1C1) transports thyroid hormones into the brain. MCT8 mediates influx of thyroid hormones from blood into the endothelium18 (Fig. 2).

The transport of circulating peptides across the BBB into the brain is restricted or slow compared with the transport of nutrients19. Carrier-mediated transport of neuroactive peptides controls their low levels in the ISF20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (Fig. 2). Some proteins, including transferrin, insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), leptin25, 26, 27 and activated protein C (APC)28, cross the BBB by receptor-mediated transcytosis (Fig. 2).

Circumventricular organs. Several small neuronal structures that surround brain ventricles lack the BBB and sense chemical changes in blood or the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) directly. These brain areas are known as circumventricular organs (CVOs). CVOs have important roles in multiple endocrine and autonomic functions, including the control of feeding behaviour as well as regulation of water and salt metabolism29. For example, the subfornical organ is one of the CVOs that are capable of sensing extracellular sodium using astrocyte-derived lactate as a signal for local neurons to initiate neural, hormonal and behavioural responses underlying sodium homeostasis30. Excessive sodium accumulation is detrimental, and increases in plasma sodium above a narrow range are incompatible with life, leading to cerebral oedema (swelling), seizures and death29.

Vascular-mediated pathophysiology

The key pathways of vascular dysfunction that are linked to neurodegenerative diseases include BBB breakdown, hypoperfusion–hypoxia and endothelial metabolic dysfunction (Fig. 3). This section examines processes that are involved in BBB breakdown at the molecular and cellular levels, and explores the consequences of all three pathways for neuronal function and viability.

Figure 3 | Vascular-mediated neuronal damage and neurodegeneration.

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders

a | Blood–brain barrier (BBB) breakdown that is caused by pericyte detachment leads to leakage of serum proteins and focal microhaemorrhages, with extravasation of red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs release haemoglobin, which is a source of iron. In turn, this metal catalyses the formation of toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) that mediate neuronal injury. Albumin promotes the development of vasogenic oedema, contributing to hypoperfusion and hypoxia of the nervous tissue, which aggravates neuronal injury. A defective BBB allows several potentially vasculotoxic and neurotoxic proteins (for example, thrombin, fibrin and plasmin) to enter the brain. b | Progressive reductions in cerebral blood flow (CBF) lead to increasing neuronal dysfunction. Mild hypoperfusion, oligaemia, leads to a decrease in protein synthesis, whereas more-severe reductions in CBF, leading to hypoxia, cause an array of detrimental effects.


Blood–brain barrier breakdown. Disruption to tight and adherens junctions, an increase in bulk-flow fluid transcytosis, and/or enzymatic degradation of the capillary basement membrane cause physical breakdown of the BBB.

The levels of many tight junction proteins, their adaptor molecules and adherens junction proteins decrease in Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases that cause dementia1, 9, ALS31, multiple sclerosis32 and various animal models of neurological disease8, 33. These decreases might be partly explained by the fact that vascular-associated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity rises in many neurodegenerative disorders and after ischaemic CNS injury34, 35; tight junction proteins and basement membrane extracellular matrix proteins are substrates for these enzymes34. Lowered expression of messenger RNAs that encode several key tight junction proteins, however, has also been reported in some neurodegenerative disorders, such as ALS31.

Endothelial cell–pericyte interactions are crucial for the formation36, 37 and maintenance of the BBB33, 38. Pericyte deficiency can lead to a reduction in expression of certain tight junction proteins, including occludin, claudin 5 and ZO1 (Ref. 33), and to an increase in bulk-flow transcytosis across the BBB, causing BBB breakdown38. Both processes can lead to extravasation of multiple small and large circulating macromolecules (up to 500 kDa) into the brain parenchyma33, 38. Moreover, in mice, an age-dependent progressive loss of pericytes can lead to BBB disruption and microvasular degeneration and, subsequently, neuronal dysfunction, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative changes33. In their lysosomes, pericytes concentrate and degrade multiple circulating exogenous39and endogenous proteins, including serum immunoglobulins and fibrin33, which amplify BBB breakdown in cases of pericyte deficiency.

BBB breakdown typically leads to an accumulation of various molecules in the brain. The build up of serum proteins such as immunoglobulins and albumin can cause brain oedema and suppression of capillary blood flow8, 33, whereas high concentrations of thrombin lead to neurotoxicity and memory impairment40, and accelerate vascular damage and BBB disruption41. The accumulation of plasmin (derived from circulating plasminogen) can catalyse the degradation of neuronal laminin and, hence, promote neuronal injury42, and high fibrin levels accelerate neurovascular damage6. Finally, an increase in the number of RBCs causes deposition of haemoglobin-derived neurotoxic products including iron, which generates neurotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS)8, 43 (Fig. 3a). In addition to protein-mediated vasogenic oedema, local tissue ischaemia–hypoxia depletes ATP stores, causing (Na++K+)ATPase pumps and Na+-dependent ion channels to stop working and, consequently, the endothelium and astrocytes to swell (known as cytotoxic oedema)44. Upregulation of aquaporin 4 water channels in response to ischaemia facilitates the development of cytotoxic oedema in astrocytes45.

Hypoperfusion and hypoxia. CBF is regulated by local neuronal activity and metabolism, known as neurovascular coupling46. The pial and intracerebral arteries control the local increase in CBF that occurs during brain activation, which is termed ‘functional hyperaemia’. Neurovascular coupling requires intact pial circulation, and for VSMCs and pericytes to respond normally to vasoactive stimuli33, 46, 47. In addition to VSMC-mediated constriction and vasodilation of cerebral arteries, recent studies have shown that pericytes modulate brain capillary diameter through constriction of the vessel wall47, which obstructs capillary flow during ischaemia48. Astrocytes regulate the contractility of intracerebral arteries49, 50.

Progressive CBF reductions have increasingly serious consequences for neurons (Fig. 3b). Briefly, mild hypoperfusion — termed oligaemia — affects protein synthesis, which is required for the synaptic plasticity mediating learning and memory46. Moderate to severe CBF reductions and hypoxia affect ATP synthesis, diminishing (Na++K+)ATPase activity and the ability of neurons to generate action potentials9. In addition, such reductions can lower or increase pH, and alter electrolyte balances and water gradients, leading to the development of oedema and white matter lesions, and the accumulation of glutamate and proteinaceous toxins (for example, amyloid-β and hyperphopshorylated tau) in the brain. A reduction of greater than 80% in CBF results in neuronal death2.

The effect of CBF reductions has been extensively studied at the molecular and cellular levels in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced CBF and/or CBF dysregulation occurs in elderly individuals at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease before cognitive decline, brain atrophy and amyloid-β accumulation10, 46, 51, 52, 53, 54. In animal models, hypoperfusion can induce or amplify Alzheimer’s disease-like neuronal dysfunction and/or neuropathological changes. For example, bilateral carotid occlusion in rats causes memory impairment, neuronal dysfunction, synaptic changes and amyloid-β oligomerization55, leading to accumulation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers56. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, oligaemia increases neuronal amyloid-β levels and neuronal tau phosphophorylation at an epitope that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease-type paired helical filaments57. In rodents, ischaemia leads to the accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau in neurons and the formation of filaments that resemble those present in human neurodegenerative tauopathies and Alzheimer’s disease58. Mice expressing amyloid-β precursor protein (APP) and transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) develop deficient neurovascular coupling, cholinergic denervation, enhanced cerebral and cerebrovascular amyloid-β deposition, and age-dependent cognitive decline59.

Recent studies have shown that ischaemia–hypoxia influences amyloidogenic APP processing through mechanisms that increase the activity of two key enzymes that are necessary for amyloid-β production; that is, β-secretase and γ-secretase60, 61, 62, 63. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) mediates transcriptional increase in β-secretase expression61. Hypoxia also promotes phosphorylation of tau through the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK; also known as extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)) pathway64, downregulates neprilysin — an amyloid-β-degrading enzyme65 — and leads to alterations in the expression of vascular-specific genes, including a reduction in the expression of the homeobox protein MOX2 gene mesenchyme homeobox 2 (MEOX2) in brain endothelial cells5 and an increase in the expression of the myocardin gene (MYOCD) in VSMCs66. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease and in models of this disorder, these changes cause vessel regression, hypoperfusion and amyloid-β accumulation resulting from the loss of the key amyloid-β clearance lipoprotein receptor (see below). In addition, hypoxia facilitates alternative splicing of Eaat2 mRNA in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice before amyloid-β deposition67 and suppresses glutamate reuptake by astrocytes independently of amyloid formation68, resulting in glutamate-mediated neuronal injury that is independent of amyloid-β.

In response to hypoxia, mitochondria release ROS that mediate oxidative damage to the vascular endothelium and to the selective population of neurons that has high metabolic activity. Such damage has been suggested to occur before neuronal degeneration and amyloid-β deposition in Alzheimer’s disease69, 70. Although the exact triggers of hypoxia-mediated neurodegeneration and the role of HIF1α in neurodegeneration versus preconditioning-mediated neuroprotection remain topics of debate, mitochondria-generated ROS seem to have a primary role in the regulation of the HIF1α-mediated transcriptional switch that can activate an array of responses, ranging from mechanisms that increase cell survival and adaptation to mechanisms inducing cell cycle arrest and death71. Whether inhibition of hypoxia-mediated pathogenic pathways will delay onset and/or control progression in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease remains to be determined.

When comparing the contributions of BBB breakdown and hypoperfusion to neuronal injury, it is interesting to consider Meox2+/− mice. Such animals have normal pericyte coverage and an intact BBB but a substantial perfusion deficit5 that is comparable to that found in pericyte-deficient mice that develop BBB breakdown33 Notably, however,Meox2+/− mice show less pronounced neurodegenerative changes than pericyte-deficient mice, indicating that chronic hypoperfusion–hypoxia alone can cause neuronal injury, but not to the same extent as hypoperfusion–hypoxia combined with BBB breakdown.

Endothelial neurotoxic and inflammatory factors. Alterations in cerebrovascular metabolic functions can lead to the secretion of multiple neurotoxic and inflammatory factors72, 73. For example, brain microvessels that have been isolated from individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (but not from neurologically normal age-matched and young individuals) and brain microvessels that have been treated with inflammatory proteins release neurotoxic factors that kill neurons74, 75. These factors include thrombin, the levels of which increase with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease76. Thrombin can injure neurons directly40 and indirectly by activating microglia and astrocytes73. Compared with those from age-matched controls, brain microvessels from individuals with Alzheimer’s disease secrete increased levels of multiple inflammatory mediators, such as nitric oxide, cytokines (for example, tumour necrosis factor (TNF), TGFβ1, interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and IL-6), chemokines (for example, CC-chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2; also known as monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP1)) and IL-8), prostaglandins, MMPs and leukocyte adhesion molecules73. Endothelium-derived neurotoxic and inflammatory factors together provide a molecular link between vascular metabolic dysfunction, neuronal injury and inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and, possibly, in other neurodegenerative disorders.

Neurovascular changes

This section examines evidence for neurovascular changes during normal ageing and for neurovascular and/or BBB dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the possibility that vascular defects can precede neuronal changes.

Age-associated neurovascular changes. Normal ageing diminishes brain circulatory functions, including a detectable decay of CBF in the limbic and association cortices that has been suggested to underlie age-related cognitive changes77. Alterations in the cerebral microvasculature, but not changes in neural activity, have been shown to lead to age-dependent reductions in functional hyperaemia in the visual system in cats78 and in the sensorimotor cortex in pericyte-deficient mice33. Importantly, a recent longitudinal CBF study in neurologically normal individuals revealed that people bearing the apolipoprotein E (APOE) ɛ4 allele — the major genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease79, 80, 81 — showed greater regional CBF decline in brain regions that are particularly vulnerable to pathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease than did people without this allele82.

A meta-analysis of BBB permeability in 1,953 individuals showed that neurologically healthy humans had an age-dependent increase in vascular permeability83. Moreover, patients with vascular or Alzheimer’s disease-type dementia and leucoaraiosis — a small-vessel disease of the cerebral white matter — had an even greater age-dependent increase in vascular permeability83. Interestingly, an increase in BBB permeability in brain areas with normal white matter in patients with leukoaraiosis has been suggested to play a causal part in disease and the development of lacunar strokes84. Age-related changes in the permeability of the blood–CSF barrier and the choroid plexus have been reported in sheep85.

Vascular pathology. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-causing diseases frequently show focal changes in brain microcirculation. These changes include the appearance of string vessels (collapsed and acellular membrane tubes), a reduction in capillary density, a rise in endothelial pinocytosis, a decrease in mitochondrial content, accumulation of collagen and perlecans in the basement membrane, loss of tight junctions and/or adherens junctions3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 46, 86, and BBB breakdown with leakage of blood-borne molecules4, 6, 7, 9. The time course of these vascular alterations and how they relate to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease pathology remain unclear, as no protocol that allows the development of the diverse brain vascular pathology to be scored, and hence to be tracked with ageing, has so far been developed and widely validated87. Interestingly, a recent study involving 500 individuals who died between the ages of 69 and 103 years showed that small-vessel disease, infarcts and the presence of more than one vascular pathological change were associated with Alzheimer’s disease-type pathological lesions and dementia in people aged 75 years of age87. These associations were, however, less pronounced in individuals aged 95 years of age, mainly because of a marked ageing-related reduction in Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology relative to a moderate but insignificant ageing-related reduction in vascular pathology87.

Accumulation of amyloid-β and amyloid deposition in pial and intracerebral arteries results in CAA, which is present in over 80% of Alzheimer’s disease cases88. In patients who have Alzheimer’s disease with established CAA in small arteries and arterioles, the VSMC layer frequently shows atrophy, which causes a rupture of the vessel wall and intracerebral bleeding in about 30% of these patients89, 90. These intracerebral bleedings contribute to, and aggravate, dementia. Patients with hereditary cerebral β-amyloidosis and CAA of the Dutch, Iowa, Arctic, Flemish, Italian or Piedmont L34V type have accelerated VSMC degeneration resulting in haemorrhagic strokes and dementia91. Duplication of the gene encoding APP causes early-onset Alzheimer’s disease dementia with CAA and intracerebral haemorrhage92.

Early studies of serum immunoglobulin leakage reported that patients with ALS had BSCB breakdown and BBB breakdown in the motor cortex93. Microhaemorrhages and BSCB breakdown have been shown in the spinal cord of transgenic mice expressing mutant variants of human superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), which in mice cause an ALS-like disease8, 94, 95. In mice with ALS-like disease and in patients with ALS, BSCB breakdown has been shown to occur before motor neuron degeneration or brain atrophy8, 11, 95.

BBB breakdown in the substantia nigra and the striatum has been detected in murine models of Parkinson’s disease that are induced by administration of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)96, 97, 98. However, the temporal relationship between BBB breakdown and neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease is currently unknown. Notably, the prevalence of CAA and vascular lesions increases in Parkinson’s disease99,100. Vascular lesions in the striatum and lacunar infarcts can cause vascular parkinsonism syndrome101. A recent study reported BBB breakdown in a rat model of Huntington’s disease that is induced with the toxin 3-nitropropionic acid102.

Several studies have established disruption of BBB with a loss of tight junction proteins during neuroinflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis and its murine model, experimental allergic encephalitis. Such disruption facilitates leukocyte infiltration, leading to oliogodendrocyte death, axonal damage, demyelination and lesion development32.

Functional changes in the vasculature. In individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, GLUT1 expression at the BBB decreases103, suggesting a shortage in necessary metabolic substrates. Studies using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) have identified reductions in glucose uptake in asymptomatic individuals with a high risk of dementia104, 105. Several studies have suggested that reduced glucose uptake across the BBB, as seen by FDG PET, precedes brain atrophy104, 105, 106, 107, 108.

Amyloid-β constricts cerebral arteries109. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, impairment of endothelium-dependent regulation of neocortical microcirculation110, 111occurs before amyloid-β accumulation. Recent studies have shown that CD36, a scavenger receptor that binds amyloid-β, is essential for the vascular oxidative stress and diminished functional hyperaemia that occurs in response to amyloid-β exposure112. Neuroimaging studies in patients with Alzheimer’s disease have shown that neurovascular uncoupling occurs before neurodegenerative changes10, 51, 52, 53. Moreover, cognitively normal APOE ɛ4 carriers at risk of Alzheimer’s disease show impaired CBF responses to brain activation in the absence of neurodegenerative changes or amyloid-β accumulation54. Recently, patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as mouse models of this disease with high cerebrovascular levels of serum response factor (SRF) and MYOCD, the two transcription factors that control VSMC differentiation, have been shown to develop a hypercontractile arterial phenotype resulting in brain hypoperfusion, diminished functional hyperaemia and CAA66, 113. More work is needed to establish the exact role of SRF and MYOCD in the vascular dysfunction that results in the Alzheimer’s disease phenotype and CAA.

PET studies with 11C-verapamil, an ABCB1 substrate, have indicated that the function of ABCB1, which removes multiple drugs and toxins from the brain, decreases with ageing114 and is particularly compromised in the midbrain of patients with Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy115. More work is needed to establish the exact roles of ABC BBB transporters in neurodegeneration and whether their failure precedes the loss of dopaminergic neurons that occurs in Parkinson’s disease.

In mice with ALS-like disease and in patients with ALS, hypoperfusion and/or dysregulated CBF have been shown to occur before motor neuron degeneration or brain atrophy8, 116. Reduced regional CBF in basal ganglia and reduced blood volume have been reported in pre-symptomatic gene-tested individuals at risk for Huntington’s disease117. Patients with Huntington’s disease display a reduction in vasomotor activity in the cerebral anterior artery during motor activation118.

Vascular and neuronal common growth factors. Blood vessels and neurons share common growth factors and molecular pathways that regulate their development and maintenance119, 120. Angioneurins are growth factors that exert both vasculotrophic and neurotrophic activities121. The best studied angioneurin is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF regulates vessel formation, axonal growth and neuronal survival120. Ephrins, semaphorins, slits and netrins are axon guidance factors that also regulate the development of the vascular system121. During embryonic development of the neural tube, blood vessels and choroid plexus secrete IGF2 into the CSF, which regulates the proliferation of neuronal progenitor cells122. Genetic and pharmacological manipulations of angioneurin activity yielded various vascular and cerebral phenotypes121. Given the dual nature of angioneurin action, these studies have not been able to address whether neuronal dysfunction results from a primary insult to neurons and/or whether it is secondary to vascular dysfunction.

Increased levels of VEGF, a hypoxia-inducible angiogenic factor, were found in the walls of intraparenchymal vessels, perivascular deposits, astrocytes and intrathecal space of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and were consistent with the chronic cerebral hypoperfusion and hypoxia that were observed in these individuals73. In addition to VEGF, brain microvessels in Alzheimer’s disease release several molecules that can influence angiogenesis, including IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNF, TGFβ, MCP1, thrombin, angiopoietin 2, αVβ3 and αVβ5 integrins, and HIF1α73. However, evidence for increased vascularity in Alzheimer’s disease is lacking. On the contrary, several studies have reported that focal vascular regression and diminished microvascular density occur in Alzheimer’s disease4, 5, 73 and in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice123. The reason for this discrepancy is not clear. The anti-angiogenic activity of amyloid-β, which accumulates in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease models, may contribute to hypovascularity123. Conversely, genome-wide transcriptional profiling of brain endothelial cells from patients with Alzheimer’s disease revealed that extremely low expression of vascular-restricted MEOX2 mediates aberrant angiogenic responses to VEGF and hypoxia, leading to capillary death5. This finding raises the interesting question of whether capillary degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease results from unsuccessful vascular repair and/or remodelling. Moreover, mice that lack one Meox2allele have been shown to develop a primary cerebral endothelial hypoplasia with chronic brain hypoperfusion5, resulting in secondary neurodegenerative changes33.

Does vascular dysfunction cause neuronal dysfunction? In summary, the evidence that is discussed above clearly indicates that vascular dysfunction is tightly linked to neuronal dysfunction. There are many examples to illustrate that primary vascular deficits lead to secondary neurodegeneration, including CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts), an hereditary small-vessel brain disease resulting in multiple small ischaemic lesions, neurodegeneration and dementia124; mutations in SLC2A1 that cause dysfunction of the BBB-specific GLUT1 transporter in humans resulting in seizures; cognitive impairment and microcephaly125; microcephaly and epileptiform discharges in mice with genetic deletion of a single Slc2a1 allele126; and neurodegeneration mediated by a single Meox2 homebox gene deletion restricted to the vascular system33. Patients with hereditary cerebral β-amyloidosis and CAA of the Dutch, Iowa, Arctic, Flemish, Italian or Piedmont L34V type provide another example showing that primary vascular dysfunction — which in this case is caused by deposition of vasculotropic amyloid-β mutants in the arterial vessel wall — leads to dementia and intracerebral bleeding. Moreover, as reviewed in the previous sections, recent evidence suggests that BBB dysfunction and/or breakdown, and CBF reductions and/or dysregulation may occur in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and experimental models of this disease before cognitive decline, amyloid-β deposition and brain atrophy. In patients with ALS and in some experimental models of ALS, CBF dysregulation, BSCB breakdown and spinal cord hypoperfusion have been reported to occur before motor neuron cell death. Whether neurological changes follow or precede vascular dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis remains less clear. However, there is little doubt that vascular injury mediates, amplifies and/or lowers the threshold for neuronal dysfunction and loss in several neurological disorders.

Disease-specific considerations

This section examines how amyloid-β levels are kept low in the brain, a process in which the BBB has a central role, and how faulty BBB-mediated clearance mechanisms go awry in Alzheimer’s disease. On the basis of this evidence and the findings discussed elsewhere in the Review, a new hypothesis for the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease that incorporates the vascular evidence is presented. ALS-specific disease mechanisms relating to the BBB are then examined.

Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-β clearance from the brain by the BBB is the best studied example of clearance of a proteinaceous toxin from the CNS. Multiple pathways regulate brain amyloid-β levels, including its production and clearance (Fig. 4). Recent studies127,128, 129 have confirmed earlier findings in multiple rodent and non-human primate models demonstrating that peripheral amyloid-β is an important precursor of brain amyloid-β130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136. Moreover, peripheral amyloid-β sequestering agents such as soluble LRP1 (ref.137), anti-amyloid-β antibodies138, 139,140, gelsolin and the ganglioside GM1 (Ref. 141), or systemic expression of neprilysin142, 143 have been shown to reduce the amyloid burden in Alzheimer’s disease mice by eliminating contributions of the peripheral amyloid-β pool to the total brain pool of this peptide.

Figure 4 | The role of blood–brain barrier transport in brain homeostasis of amyloid-β.

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders

Amyloid-β (Aβ) is produced from the amyloid-β precursor protein (APP), both in the brain and in peripheral tissues. Clearance of amyloid-β from the brain normally maintains its low levels in the brain. This peptide is cleared across the blood–brain barrier (BBB) by the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1). LRP1 mediates rapid efflux of a free, unbound form of amyloid-β and of amyloid-β bound to apolipoprotein E2 (APOE2), APOE3 or α2-macroglobulin (not shown) from the brain’s interstitial fluid into the blood, and APOE4 inhibits such transport. LRP2 eliminates amyloid-β that is bound to clusterin (CLU; also known as apolipoprotein J (APOJ)) by transport across the BBB, and shows a preference for the 42-amino-acid form of this peptide. ATP-binding cassette subfamily A member 1 (ABCA1; also known as cholesterol efflux regulatory protein) mediates amyloid-β efflux from the brain endothelium to blood across the luminal side of the BBB (not shown). Cerebral endothelial cells, pericytes, vascular smooth muscle cells, astrocytes, microglia and neurons express different amyloid-β-degrading enzymes, including neprilysin (NEP), insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which contribute to amyloid-β clearance. In the circulation, amyloid-β is bound mainly to soluble LRP1 (sLRP1), which normally prevents its entry into the brain. Systemic clearance of amyloid-β is mediated by its removal by the liver and kidneys. The receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) provides the key mechanism for influx of peripheral amyloid-β into the brain across the BBB either as a free, unbound plasma-derived peptide and/or by amyloid-β-laden monocytes. Faulty vascular clearance of amyloid-β from the brain and/or an increased re-entry of peripheral amyloid-β across the blood vessels into the brain can elevate amyloid-β levels in the brain parenchyma and around cerebral blood vessels. At pathophysiological concentrations, amyloid-β forms neurotoxic oligomers and also self-aggregates, which leads to the development of cerebral β-amyloidosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

The receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) mediates amyloid-β transport in brain and the propagation of its toxicity. RAGE expression in brain endothelium provides a mechanism for influx of amyloid-β144, 145 and amyloid-β-laden monocytes146 across the BBB, as shown in Alzheimer’s disease models (Fig. 4). The amyloid-β-rich environment in Alzheimer’s disease and models of this disorder increases RAGE expression at the BBB and in neurons147, 148, amplifying amyloid-β-mediated pathogenic responses. Blockade of amyloid-β–RAGE signalling in Alzheimer’s disease is a promising strategy to control self-propagation of amyloid-β-mediated injury.

Several studies in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, in patients with this disorder149 have shown that diminished amyloid-β clearance occurs in brain tissue in this disease. LRP1 plays an important part in the three-step serial clearance of this peptide from brain and the rest of the body150 (Fig. 4). In step one, LRP1 in brain endothelium binds brain-derived amyloid-β at the abluminal side of the BBB, initiating its clearance to blood, as shown in many animal models151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156 and BBB models in vitro151, 157, 158. The vasculotropic mutants of amyloid-β that have low binding affinity for LRP1 are poorly cleared from the brain or CSF151, 159, 160. APOE4, but not APOE3 or APOE2, blocks LRP1-mediated amyloid-β clearance from the brain and, hence, promotes its retention161, whereas clusterin (also known as apolipoprotein J (APOJ)) mediates amyloid-β clearance across the BBB via LRP2 (Ref. 153). APOE and clusterin influence amyloid-β aggregation162, 163. Reduced LRP1 levels in brain microvessels, perhaps in addition to altered levels of ABCB1, are associated with amyloid-β cerebrovascular and brain accumulation during ageing in rodents, non-human primates, humans, Alzheimer’s disease mice and patients with Alzheimer’s disease66,151, 152, 164, 165, 166. Moreover, recent work has shown that brain LRP1 is oxidized in Alzheimer’s disease167, and may contribute to amyloid-β retention in brain because the oxidized form cannot bind and/or transport amyloid-β137. LRP1 also mediates the removal of amyloid-β from the choroid plexus168.

In step two, circulating soluble LRP1 binds more than 70% of plasma amyloid-β in neurologically normal humans137. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and in Alzheimer’s disease mice, amyloid-β binding to soluble LRP1 is compromised due to oxidative changes137, 169, resulting in elevated plasma levels of free amyloid-β isoforms comprising 40 or 42 amino acids (amyloid-β1–40 and amyloid-β1–42). These peptides can then re-enter the brain, as has been shown in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease137. Rapid systemic removal of amyloid-β by the liver is also mediated by LRP1 and comprises step three of the clearance process170.

In brain, amyloid-β is enzymatically degraded by neprilysin171, insulin-degrading enzyme172, tissue plasminogen activator173 and MMPs173, 174 in various cell types, including endothelial cells, pericytes, astrocytes, neurons and microglia. Cellular clearance of this peptide by astrocytes and VSMCs is mediated by LRP1 and/or another lipoprotein receptor66, 175. Clearance of amyloid-β aggregates by microglia has an important role in amyloid-β-directed immunotherapy176 and reduction of the amyloid load in brain177. Passive ISF–CSF bulk flow and subsequent clearance through the CSF might contribute to 10–15% of total amyloid-β removal152, 153, 178. In the injured human brain, increasing soluble amyloid-β concentrations in the ISF correlated with improvements in neurological status, suggesting that neuronal activity might regulate extracellular amyloid-β levels179.

The role of BBB dysfunction in amyloid-β accumulation, as discussed above, underlies the contribution of vascular dysfunction to Alzheimer’s disease (see Fig. 5 for a model of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease). The amyloid hypothesis for the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease maintains that this peptide initiates a cascade of events leading to neuronal injury and loss and, eventually, dementia180, 181. Here, I present an alternative hypothesis — the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease — that incorporates the vascular contribution to this disease, as discussed in this Review (Box 1). This hypothesis states that primary damage to brain microcirculation (hit one) initiates a non-amyloidogenic pathway of vascular-mediated neuronal dysfunction and injury, which is mediated by BBB dysfunction and is associated with leakage and secretion of multiple neurotoxic molecules and/or diminished brain capillary flow that causes multiple focal ischaemic or hypoxic microinjuries. BBB dysfunction also leads to impairment of amyloid-β clearance, and oligaemia leads to increased amyloid-β generation. Both processes contribute to accumulation of amyloid-β species in the brain (hit two), where these peptides exert vasculotoxic and neurotoxic effects. According to the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, tau pathology develops secondary to vascular and/or amyloid-β injury.

Figure 5 | A model of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders

a | In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, small pial and intracerebral arteries develop a hypercontractile phenotype that underlies dysregulated cerebral blood flow (CBF). This phenotype is accompanied by diminished amyloid-β clearance by the vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). In the later phases of Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid deposition in the walls of intracerebral arteries leads to cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), pronounced reductions in CBF, atrophy of the VSMC layer and rupture of the vessels causing microbleeds. b | At the level of capillaries in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, blood–brain barrier (BBB) dysfunction leads to a faulty amyloid-β clearance and accumulation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers in the interstitial fluid (ISF), microhaemorrhages and accumulation of toxic blood-derived molecules (that is, thrombin and fibrin), which affect synaptic and neuronal function. Hyperphosphorylated tau (p-tau) accumulates in neurons in response to hypoperfusion and/or rising amyloid-β levels. At this point, microglia begin to sense neuronal injury. In the later stages of the disease in brain capillaries, microvascular degeneration leads to increased deposition of basement membrane proteins and perivascular amyloid. The deposited proteins and amyloid obstruct capillary blood flow, resulting in failure of the efflux pumps, accumulation of metabolic waste products, changes in pH and electrolyte composition and, subsequently, synaptic and neuronal dysfunction. Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) accumulate in response to ischaemic injury and rising amyloid-β levels. Activation of microglia and astrocytes is associated with a pronounced inflammatory response. ROS, reactive oxygen species.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The cause of sporadic ALS, a fatal adult-onset motor neuron neurodegenerative disease, is not known182. In a relatively small number of patients with inherited SOD1 mutations, the disease is caused by toxic properties of mutant SOD1 (Ref. 183). Mutations in the genes encoding ataxin 2 and TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP43) that cause these proteins to aggregate have been associated with ALS182, 184. Some studies have suggested that abnormal SOD1 species accumulate in sporadic ALS185. Interestingly, studies in ALS transgenic mice expressing a mutant version of human SOD1 in neurons, and in non-neuronal cells neighbouring these neurons, have shown that deletion of this gene from neurons does not influence disease progression186, whereas deletion of this gene from microglia186 or astrocytes187substantially increases an animal’s lifespan. According to an emerging hypothesis of ALS that is based on studies in SOD1 mutant mice, the toxicity that is derived from non-neuronal neighbouring cells, particularly microglia and astrocytes, contributes to disease progression and motor neuron degeneration186, 187, 188, 189, 190, whereas BBB dysfunction might be critical for disease initiation8, 43, 94, 95. More work is needed to determine whether this concept of disease initiation and progression may also apply to cases of sporadic ALS.

Human data support a role for angiogenic factors and vessels in the pathogenesis of ALS. For example, the presence of VEGF variations (which were identified in large meta-analysis studies) has been linked to ALS191. Angiogenin is another pro-angiogenic gene that is implicated in ALS because heterozygous missense mutations in angiogenin cause familial and sporadic ALS192. Moreover, mice with a mutation that eliminates hypoxia-responsive induction of the Vegf gene (Vegfδ/δ mice) develop late-onset motor neuron degeneration193. Spinal cord ischaemia worsens motor neuron degeneration and functional outcome in Vegfδ/δ mice, whereas the absence of hypoxic induction of VEGF in mice that develop motor neuron disease from expression of ALS-linked mutant SOD1G93A results in substantially reduced survival191.

Therapeutic opportunities

Many investigators believe that primary neuronal dysfunction resulting from an intrinsic neuronal disorder is the key underlying event in human neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, most therapeutic efforts for neurodegenerative diseases have so far been directed at the development of so-called ‘single-target, single-action’ agents to target neuronal cells directly and reverse neuronal dysfunction and/or protect neurons from injurious insults. However, most preclinical and clinical studies have shown that such drugs are unable to cure or control human neurological disorders2, 181, 183, 194, 195. For example, although pathological overstimulation of glutaminergic NMDA receptors (NMDARs) has been shown to lead to neuronal injury and death in several disorders, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Huntington’s disease16, NMDAR antagonists have failed to show a therapeutic benefit in the above-mentioned human neurological disorders.

Recently, my colleagues and I coined the term vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad195to indicate that vascular damage, neuronal injury and/or neurodegeneration, and neuroinflammation comprise a common pathological triad that occurs in multiple neurological disorders. In line with this idea, it is conceivable that ‘multiple-target, multiple-action’ agents (that is, drugs that have more than one target and thus have more than one action) will have a better chance of controlling the complex disease mechanisms that mediate neurodegeneration than agents that have only one target (for example, neurons). According to the vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad model, in addition to neurons, brain endothelium, VSMCs, pericytes, astrocytes and activated microglia are all important therapeutic targets.

Here, I will briefly discuss a few therapeutic strategies based on the vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad model. VEGF and other angioneurins may have multiple targets, and thus multiple actions, in the CNS120. For example, preclinical studies have shown that treatment of SOD1G93A rats with intracerebroventricular VEGF196 or intramuscular administration of a VEGF-expressing lentiviral vector that is transported retrogradely to motor neurons in SOD1G93A mice197 reduced pathology and extended survival, probably by promoting angiogenesis and increasing the blood flow through the spinal cord as well as through direct neuronal protective effects of VEGF on motor neurons. On the basis of these and other studies, a phase I–II clinical trial has been initiated to evaluate the safety of intracerebroventricular infusion of VEGF in patients with ALS198. Treatment with angiogenin also slowed down disease progression in a mouse model of ALS199.

IGF1 delivery has been shown to promote amyloid-β vascular clearance and to improve learning and memory in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease200. Local intracerebral implantation of VEGF-secreting cells in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease has been shown to enhance vascular repair, reduce amyloid burden and improve learning and memory201. In contrast to VEGF, which can increase BBB permeability, TGFβ, hepatocyte growth factor and fibroblast growth factor 2 promote BBB integrity by upregulating the expression of endothelial junction proteins121 in a similar way to APC43. However, VEGF and most growth factors do not cross the BBB, so the development of delivery strategies such as Trojan horses is required for their systemic use25.

A recent experimental approach with APC provides an example of a neurovascular medicine that has been shown to favourably regulate multiple pathways in non-neuronal cells and neurons, resulting in vasculoprotection, stabilization of the BBB, neuroprotection and anti-inflammation in several acute and chronic models of the CNS disorders195 (Box 2).

Box 2 | A model of multiple-target, multiple-action neurovascular medicine

The recognition of amyloid-β clearance pathways (Fig. 4), as discussed above, opens exciting new therapeutic opportunities for Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-β clearance pathways are promising therapeutic targets for the future development of neurovascular medicines because it has been shown both in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease1 and in patients with sporadic Alzheimer’s disease149 that faulty clearance from brain and across the BBB primarily determines amyloid-β retention in brain, causing the formation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers56 and the promotion of brain and cerebrovascular amyloidosis3. The targeting of clearance mechanisms might also be beneficial in other diseases; for example, the clearance of extracellular mutant SOD1 in familial ALS, the prion protein in prion disorders and α-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease might all prove beneficial. However, the clearance mechanisms for these proteins in these diseases are not yet understood.

Conclusions and perspectives

Currently, no effective disease-modifying drugs are available to treat the major neurodegenerative disorders202, 203, 204. This fact leads to a question: are we close to solving the mystery of neurodegeneration? The probable answer is yes, because the field has recently begun to recognize that, first, damage to neuronal cells is not the sole contributor to disease initiation and progression, and that, second, correcting disease pathways in vascular and glial cells may offer an array of new approaches to control neuronal degeneration that do not involve targeting neurons directly. These realizations constitute an important shift in paradigm that should bring us closer to a cure for neurodegenerative diseases. Here, I raise some issues concerning the existing models of neurodegeneration and the new neurovascular paradigm.

The discovery of genetic abnormalities and associations by linkage analysis or DNA sequencing has broadened our understanding of neurodegeneration204. However, insufficient effort has been made to link genetic findings with disease biology. Another concern for neurodegenerative research is how we should interpret findings from animal models202. Genetically engineered models of human neurodegenerative disorders inDrosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans have been useful for dissecting basic disease mechanisms and screening compounds. However, in addition to having much simpler nervous systems, insects and avascular species do not have cerebrovascular and immune systems that are comparable to humans and, therefore, are unlikely to replicate the complex disease pathology that is found in people.

For most neurodegenerative disorders, early steps in the disease processes remain unclear, and biomarkers for these stages have yet to be identified. Thus, it is difficult to predict whether mammalian models expressing human genes and proteins that we know are implicated in the intermediate or later stages of disease pathophysiology, such as amyloid-β or tau in Alzheimer’s disease7, 181, will help us to discover therapies for the early stages of disease and for disease prevention, because the exact role of these pathological accumulations during disease onset remains uncertain. According to the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, incorporating vascular factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease into current models of this disease may more faithfully replicate dementia events in humans. Alternatively, by focusing on the comorbidities and the initial cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying early neurovascular dysfunction that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, new models of dementia and neurodegeneration may be developed that do not require the genetic manipulation of amyloid-β or tau expression.

The proposed neurovascular triad model of neurodegenerative diseases challenges the traditional neurocentric view of such disorders. At the same time, this model raises a set of new important issues that require further study. For example, the molecular basis of the neurovascular link with neurodegenerative disorders is poorly understood, in terms of the adhesion molecules that keep the physical association of various cell types together, the molecular crosstalk between different cell types (including endothelial cells, pericytes and astrocytes) and how these cellular interactions influence neuronal activity. Addressing these issues promises to create new opportunities not only to better understand the molecular basis of the neurovascular link with neurodegeneration but also to develop novel neurovascular-based medicines.

The construction of a human BBB molecular atlas will be an important step towards understanding the role of the BBB and neurovascular interactions in health and disease. Achievement of this goal will require identifying new BBB transporters by using genomic and proteomic tools, and by cloning some of the transporters that are already known. Better knowledge of transporters at the human BBB will help us to better understand their potential as therapeutic targets for disease.

Development of higher-resolution imaging methods to evaluate BBB integrity, key transporters’ functions and CBF responses in the microregions of interest (for example, in the entorhinal region of the hippocampus) will help us to understand how BBB dysfunction correlates with cognitive outcomes and neurodegenerative processes in MCI, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

The question persists: are we missing important therapeutic targets by studying the nervous system in isolation from the influence of the vascular system? The probable answer is yes. However, the current exciting and novel research that is based on the neurovascular model has already begun to change the way that we think about neurodegeneration, and will continue to provide further insights in the future, leading to the development of new neurovascular therapies.

  1. Zlokovic, B. V. The blood–brain barrier in health and chronic neurodegenerative disorders. Neuron 57, 178–201 (2008).

  2. Moskowitz, M. A., Lo, E. H. & Iadecola, C. The science of stroke: mechanisms in search of treatments. Neuron 67, 181–198 (2010).
    A comprehensive review describing mechanisms of ischaemic injury to the neurovascular unit.

  3. Zlokovic, B. V. Neurovascular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s neurodegeneration.Trends Neurosci. 28, 202–208 (2005).

  4. Brown, W. R. & Thore, C. R. Review: cerebral microvascular pathology in ageing and neurodegeneration. Neuropathol. Appl. Neurobiol. 37, 56–74 (2011).

  5. Wu, Z. et al. Role of the MEOX2 homeobox gene in neurovascular dysfunction in Alzheimer disease. Nature Med. 11, 959–965 (2005).
    A study demonstrating that low expression of MEOX2 in brain endothelium leads to aberrant angiogenesis and vascular regression in Alzheimer’s disease.



Read Full Post »

Special Considerations in Blood Lipoproteins, Viscosity, Assessment and Treatment

Special Considerations in Blood Lipoproteins, Viscosity, Assessment and Treatment

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Curator: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

This is the second of a two part discussion of viscosity, hemostasis, and vascular risk

This is Part II of a series on blood flow and shear stress effects on hemostasis and vascular disease.

See Part I on viscosity, triglycerides and LDL, and thrombotic risk.


Hemostatic Factors in Thrombophilia

Objectives.—To review the state of the art relating to elevated hemostatic factor levels as a potential risk factor for thrombosis, as reflected by the medical literature and the consensus opinion of recognized experts in the field, and to make recommendations for the use of specific measurements of hemostatic factor levels in the assessment of thrombotic risk in individual patients.

Data Sources.—Review of the medical literature, primarily from the last 10 years.

Data Extraction and Synthesis.—After an initial assessment of the literature, key points were identified. Experts were assigned to do an in-depth review of the literature and to prepare a summary of their findings and recommendations.

A draft manuscript was prepared and circulated to every participant in the College of American Pathologists Conference XXXVI: Diagnostic Issues in Thrombophilia prior to the conference. Each of the key points and associated recommendations was then presented for discussion at the conference. Recommendations were accepted if a consensus of the 27 experts attending the conference was reached. The results of the discussion were used to revise the manuscript into its final form.

Consensus was reached on 8 recommendations concerning the use of hemostatic factor levels in the assessment of thrombotic risk in individual patients.

The underlying premise for measuring elevated coagulation factor levels is that if the average level of the factor is increased in the patient long-term, then the patient may be at increased risk of thrombosis long-term. Both risk of thrombosis and certain factors increase with age (eg, fibrinogen, factor VII, factor VIII, factor IX, and von Willebrand factor). Are these effects linked or do we need age specific ranges? Do acquired effects like other diseases or medications affect factor levels, and do the same risk thresholds apply in these instances? How do we assure that the level we are measuring is a true indication of the patient’s average baseline level and not a transient change? Fibrinogen, factor VIII, and von Willebrand factor are all strong acute-phase reactants.

Risk of bleeding associated with coagulation factor levels increases with roughly log decreases in factor levels. Compared to normal (100%), 60% to 90% decreases in a coagulation factor may be associated with excess bleeding with major trauma, 95% to 98% decreases with minor trauma, and .99% decrease with spontaneous hemorrhage. In contrast, the difference between low risk and high risk for thrombosis may be separated by as little as 15% above normal.

It may be possible to define relative cutoffs for specific factors, for example, 50% above the mean level determined locally in healthy subjects for a certain factor. Before coagulation factor levels can be routinely used to assess individual risk, work must be done to better standardize and calibrate the assays used.

Detailed discussion of the rationale for each of these recommendations is presented in the article. This is an evolving area of research. While routine use of factor level measurements is not recommended, improvements in assay methodology and further clinical studies may change these recommendations in the future.

Chandler WL, Rodgers GM, Sprouse JT, Thompson AR.  Elevated Hemostatic Factor Levels as Potential Risk Factors for Thrombosis.  Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2002;126:1405–1414

Model System for Hemostatic Behavior

This study explores the behavior of a model system in response to perturbations in

  • tissue factor
  • thrombomodulin surface densities
  • tissue factor site dimensions
  • wall shear rate.

The classic time course is characterized by

  • initiation and
  • amplification of thrombin generation
  • the existence of threshold-like responses

This author defines a new parameter, the „effective prothrombotic zone‟,  and its dependence on model parameters. It was found that prothrombotic effects may extend significantly beyond the dimensions of the spatially discrete site of tissue factor expression in both axial and radial directions. Furthermore, he takes advantage of the finite element modeling approach to explore the behavior of systems containing multiple spatially distinct sites of TF expression in a physiologic model. The computational model is applied to assess individualized thrombotic risk from clinical data of plasma coagulation factor levels. He proposes a systems-based parameter with deep venous thrombosis using computational methods in combination with biochemical panels to predict hypercoagulability for high risk populations.


The Vascular Surface

The ‘resting’ endothelium synthesizes and presents a number of antithrombogenic molecules including

  • heparan sulfate proteoglycans
  • ecto-adenosine diphosphatase
  • prostacyclin
  • nitric oxide
  • thrombomodulin.

In response to various stimuli

  • inflammatory mediators
  • hypoxia
  • oxidative stress
  • fluid shear stress

the cell surface becomes ‘activated’ and serves to organize membrane-associated enzyme complexes of coagulation.

Fluid Phase Models of Coagulation

Leipold et al. developed a model of the tissue factor pathway as a design aid for the development of exogenous serine protease inhibitors. In contrast, Guo et al. focused on the reactions of the contact, or intrinsic pathway, to study parameters relevant to material-induced thrombosis, including procoagulant surface area.

Alternative approaches to modeling the coagulation cascade have been pursued including the use of stochastic activity networks to represent the intrinsic, extrinsic, and common pathways through fibrin formation and a kinetic Monte Carlo simulation of TF-initiated thrombin generation. Generally, fluid phase models of the kinetics of coagulation are both computationally and experimentally less complex. As such, the computational models are able to incorporate a large number of species and their reactions, and empirical data is often available for regression analysis and model validation. The range of complexity and motivations for these models is wide, and the models have been used to describe various phenomena including the ‘all-or-none’ threshold behavior of thrombin generation. However, the role of blood flow in coagulation is well recognized in promoting the delivery of substrates to the vessel wall and in regulating the thrombin response by removing activated clotting factors.

Flow Based Models of Coagulation

In 1990, Basmadjian presented a mathematical analysis of the effect of flow and mass transport on a single reactive event at the vessel wall and consequently laid the foundation for the first flow-based models of coagulation. It was proposed that for vessels greater than 0.1 mm in diameter, reactive events at the vessel wall could be adequately described by the assumption of a concentration boundary layer very close to the reactive surface, within which the majority of concentration changes took place. The height of the boundary layer and the mass transfer coefficient that described transport to and from the vessel wall were shown to stabilize on a time scale much shorter than the time scale over which concentration changes were empirically observed. Thus, the vascular space could be divided into two compartments, a boundary volume and a bulk volume, and furthermore, changes within the bulk phase could be considered negligible, thereby reducing the previously intractable problem to a pseudo-one compartment model described by a system of ordinary differential equations.

Basmadjian et al. subsequently published a limited model of six reactions, including two positive feedback reactions and two inhibitory reactions, of the common pathway of coagulation triggered by exogenous factor IXa under flow. As a consequence of the definition of the mass transfer coefficient, the kinetic parameters were dependent on the boundary layer height. Furthermore, the model did not explicitly account for intrinsic tenase or prothrombinase formation, but rather derived a rate expression for reaction in the presence of a cofactor. The major finding of the study was the predicted effect of increased mass transport to enhance thrombin generation by decreasing the induction time up to a critical mass transfer rate, beyond which transport significantly decreased peak thrombin levels thereby reducing overall thrombin production.

Kuharsky and Fogelson formulated a more comprehensive, pseudo-one compartment model of tissue factor-initiated coagulation under flow, which included the description of 59 distinct fluid- and surface-bound species. In contrast to the Baldwin-Basmadjian model, which defined a mass transfer coefficient as a rate of transport to the vessel surface, the Kuharsky-Fogelson model defined the mass transfer coefficient as a rate of transport into the boundary volume, thus eliminating the dependence of kinetic parameters on transport parameters. The computational study focused on the threshold response of thrombin generation to the availability of membrane binding sites. Additionally, the model suggested that adhered platelets may play a role in blocking the activity of the TF/ VIIa complex. Fogelson and Tania later expanded the model to include the protein C and TFPI pathways.

Modeling surface-associated reactions under flow uses finite element method (FEM), which is a technique for solving partial differential equations by dividing the vascular space into a finite number of discrete elements. Hall et al. used FEM to simulate factor X activation over a surface presenting TF in a parallel plate flow reactor. The steady state model was defined by the convection-diffusion equation and Michaelis-Menten reaction kinetics at the surface. The computational results were compared to experimental data for the generation of factor Xa by cultured rat vascular smooth muscle cells expressing TF.

Based on discrepancies between numerical and experimental studies, the catalytic activity of the TF/ VIIa complex may be shear-dependent. Towards the overall objective of developing an antithrombogenic biomaterial, Tummala and Hall studied the kinetics of factor Xa inhibition by surface-immobilized recombinant TFPI under unsteady flow conditions. Similarly, Byun et al. investigated the association and dissociation kinetics of ATIII inactivation of thrombin accelerated by surface-immobilized heparin under steady flow conditions. To date, finite element models that detail surface-bound reactions under flow have been restricted to no more than a single reaction catalyzed by a single surface-immobilized species.


Models of Coagulation Incorporating Spatial Parameter

Major findings include the roles of these specific coagulation pathways in the

  • initiation
  • amplification
  • termination phases of coagulation.

Coagulation near the activating surface was determined by TF/VIIa catalyzed factor Xa production, which was rapidly inhibited close to the wall. In contrast, factor IXa diffused farther from the surface, and thus factor Xa generation and clot formation away from the reactive wall was dependent on intrinsic tenase (IXa/ VIIIa) activity. Additionally, the concentration wave of thrombin propagated away from the activation zone at a rate which was dependent on the efficiency of inhibitory mechanisms.

Experimental and ‘virtual’ addition of plasma-phase thrombomodulin resulted in dose-dependent termination of thrombin generation and provided evidence of spatial localization of clot formation by TM with final clot lengths of 0.2-2 mm under diffusive conditions.

These studies provide an interesting analysis of the roles of specific factors in relation to space due to diffusive effects, but neglect the essential role of blood flow in the transport analysis. Additionally, the spatial dynamics of clot localization by thrombomodulin would likely be affected by restricting the inhibitor to its physiologic site on the vessel surface.

Finite Element Modeling

Finite element method (FEM) is a numerical technique for solving partial differential equations. Originally proposed in the 1940s to approach structural analysis problems in civil engineering, FEM now finds application in a wide variety of disciplines. The computational method relies on mesh discretization of a continuous domain which subdivides the space into a finite number of ‘elements’. The physics of each element are defined by its own set of physical properties and boundary conditions, and the simultaneous solution of the equations describing the individual elements approximate the behavior of the overall domain.

Sumanas W. Jordan, PhD Thesis. A Mathematical Model of Tissue Factor-Induced Blood Coagulation: Discrete Sites of Initiation and Regulation under Conditions of Flow.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering. Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology. May 2010.  Under supervision of: Dr. Elliot L. Chaikof, Departments of Surgery and Biomedical Engineering.

Blood Coagulation (Thrombin) and Protein C Pat...

Blood Coagulation (Thrombin) and Protein C Pathways (Blood_Coagulation_and_Protein_C_Pathways.jpg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coagulation cascade

Coagulation cascade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Cardiovascular Physiology: Modeling, Estimation and Signal Processing

With cardiovascular diseases being among the main causes of death in the world, quantitative modeling, assessment and monitoring of cardiovascular dynamics, and functioning play a critical role in bringing important breakthroughs to cardiovascular care. Quantification of cardiovascular physiology and its control mechanisms from physiological recordings, by use of mathematical models and algorithms, has been proved to be of important value in understanding the causes of cardiovascular diseases and assisting the diagnostic and prognostic process. This E-Book is derived from the Frontiers in Computational Physiology and Medicine Research Topic entitled “Engineering Approaches to Study Cardiovascular Physiology: Modeling, Estimation and Signal Processing.”

There are two review articles. The first review article by Chen et al. (2012) presents a unified point process probabilistic framework to assess heart beat dynamics and autonomic cardiovascular control. Using clinical recordings of healthy subjects during Propofol anesthesia, the authors demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach by applying the proposed paradigm to estimate

  • instantaneous heart rate (HR),
  • heart rate variability (HRV),
  • respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)
  • baroreflex sensitivity (BRS).

The second review article, contributed by Zhang et al. (2011), provides a comprehensive overview of tube-load model parameter estimation for monitoring arterial hemodynamics.

The remaining eight original research articles can be mainly classified into two categories. The two articles from the first category emphasize modeling and estimation methods. In particular, the paper “Modeling the autonomic and metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnea: a simulation study” by Cheng and Khoo (2012), combines computational modeling and simulations to study the autonomic and metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The second paper, “Estimation of cardiac output and peripheral resistance using square-wave-approximated aortic flow signal” by Fazeli and Hahn (2012), presents a model-based approach to estimate cardiac output (CO) and total peripheral resistance (TPR), and validates the proposed approach via in vivo experimental data from animal subjects.

The six articles in the second category focus on application of signal processing techniques and statistical tools to analyze cardiovascular or physiological signals in practical applications. the paper “Modulation of the sympatho-vagal balance during sleep: frequency domain study of heart rate variability and respiration” by Cabiddu et al. (2012), uses spectral and cross-spectral analysis of heartbeat and respiration signals to assess autonomic cardiac regulation and cardiopulmonary coupling variations during different sleep stages in healthy subjects.

The paper “increased non-gaussianity of heart rate variability predicts cardiac mortality after an acute myocardial infarction” by Hayano et al. (2011) uses a new non-gaussian index to assess the HRV of cardiac mortality using 670 post-acute myocardial infarction (AMI) patients. the paper “non-gaussianity of low frequency heart rate variability and sympathetic activation: lack of increases in multiple system atrophy and parkinson disease” by Kiyono et al. (2012), applies a non-gaussian index to assess HRV in patients with multiple system atrophy (MSA) and parkinson diseases and reports the relation between the non-gaussian intermittency of the heartbeat and increased sympathetic activity. The paper “Information domain approach to the investigation of cardio-vascular, cardio-pulmonary, and vasculo-pulmonary causal couplings” by Faes et al. (2011), proposes an information domain approach to evaluate nonlinear causality among heartbeat, arterial pressure, and respiration measures during tilt testing and paced breathing protocols. The paper “integrated central-autonomic multifractal complexity in the heart rate variability of healthy humans” by Lin and Sharif (2012), uses a relative multifractal complexity measure to assess HRV in healthy humans and discusses the related implications in central autonomic interactions. Lastly, the paper “Time scales of autonomic information flow in near-term fetal sheep” by Frasch et al. (2012), analyzes the autonomic information flow (AIF) with kullback–leibler entropy in fetal sheep as a function of vagal and sympathetic modulation of fetal HRV during atropine and propranolol blockade.

In summary, this Research Topic attempts to give a general panorama of the possible state-of-the-art modeling methodologies, practical tools in signal processing and estimation, as well as several important clinical applications, which can altogether help deepen our understanding about heart physiology and pathology and further lead to new scientific findings. We hope that the readership of Frontiers will appreciate this collected volume and enjoy reading the presented contributions. Finally, we are grateful to all contributed authors, reviewers, and editorial staffs who had all put tremendous effort to make this E-Book a reality.

Cabiddu, R., Cerutti, S., Viardot, G., Werner, S., and Bianchi, A. M. (2012). Modulation of the sympatho-vagal balance during sleep: frequency domain study of heart rate variability and respiration. Front. Physio. 3:45. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00045

Chen, Z., Purdon, P. L., Brown, E. N., and Barbieri, R. (2012). A unified point process probabilistic framework to assess heartbeat dynamics and autonomic cardiovascular control. Front. Physio. 3:4. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00004

Cheng, L., and Khoo, M. C. K. (2012). Modeling the autonomic and metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnea: a simulation study. Front. Physio. 2:111. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00111

Faes, L., Nollo, G., and Porta, A. (2011). Information domain approach to the investigation of cardio-vascular, cardio-pulmonary, and vasculo-pulmonary causal couplings. Front. Physio. 2:80. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00080

Fazeli, N., and Hahn, J.-O. (2012). Estimation of cardiac output and peripheral resistance using square-wave-approximated aortic flow signal. Front. Physio. 3:298. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00298

Frasch, M. G., Frank, B., Last, M., and Müller, T. (2012). Time scales of autonomic information flow in near-term fetal sheep. Front. Physio. 3:378. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00378

Hayano, J., Kiyono, K., Struzik, Z. R., Yamamoto, Y., Watanabe, E., Stein, P. K., et al. (2011). Increased non-gaussianity of heart rate variability predicts cardiac mortality after an acute myocardial infarction. Front. Physio. 2:65. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00065

Kiyono, K., Hayano, J., Kwak, S., Watanabe, E., and Yamamoto, Y. (2012). Non-Gaussianity of low frequency heart rate variability and sympathetic activation: lack of increases in multiple system atrophy and Parkinson disease. Front. Physio. 3:34. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00034

Lin, D. C., and Sharif, A. (2012). Integrated central-autonomic multifractal complexity in the heart rate variability of healthy humans. Front. Physio. 2:123. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00123

Zhang, G., Hahn, J., and Mukkamala, R. (2011). Tube-load model parameter estimation for monitoring arterial hemodynamics. Front. Physio. 2:72. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00072

Citation: Chen Z and Barbieri R (2012) Editorial: engineering approaches to study cardiovascular physiology: modeling, estimation, and signal processing. Front. Physio. 3:425. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00425

fluctuations of cerebral blood flow and metabolic demand following hypoxia in neonatal brain

Most of the research investigating the pathogenesis of perinatal brain injury following hypoxia-ischemia has focused on excitotoxicity, oxidative stress and an inflammatory response, with the response of the developing cerebrovasculature receiving less attention. This is surprising as the presentation of devastating and permanent injury such as germinal matrix-intraventricular haemorrhage (GM-IVH) and perinatal stroke are of vascular origin, and the origin of periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) may also arise from poor perfusion of the white matter. This highlights that cerebrovasculature injury following hypoxia could primarily be responsible for the injury seen in the brain of many infants diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

The highly dynamic nature of the cerebral blood vessels in the fetus, and the fluctuations of cerebral blood flow and metabolic demand that occur following hypoxia suggest that the response of blood vessels could explain both regional protection and vulnerability in the developing brain.

This review discusses the current concepts on the pathogenesis of perinatal brain injury, the development of the fetal cerebrovasculature and the blood brain barrier (BBB), and key mediators involved with the response of cerebral blood vessels to hypoxia.

Baburamani AA, Ek CJ, Walker DW and Castillo-Melendez M. Vulnerability of the developing brain to hypoxic-ischemic damage: contribution of the cerebral vasculature to injury and repair? Front. Physio. 2012;  3:424. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00424

remodeling of coronary and cerebral arteries and arterioles 

Effects of hypertension on arteries and arterioles often manifest first as a thickened wall, with associated changes in passive material properties (e.g., stiffness) or function (e.g., cellular phenotype, synthesis and removal rates, and vasomotor responsiveness). Less is known, however, regarding the relative evolution of such changes in vessels from different vascular beds.

We used an aortic coarctation model of hypertension in the mini-pig to elucidate spatiotemporal changes in geometry and wall composition (including layer-specific thicknesses as well as presence of collagen, elastin, smooth muscle, endothelial, macrophage, and hematopoietic cells) in three different arterial beds, specifically aortic, cerebral, and coronary, and vasodilator function in two different arteriolar beds, the cerebral and coronary.

Marked geometric and structural changes occurred in the thoracic aorta and left anterior descending coronary artery within 2 weeks of the establishment of hypertension and continued to increase over the 8-week study period. In contrast, no significant changes were observed in the middle cerebral arteries from the same animals. Consistent with these differential findings at the arterial level, we also found a diminished nitric oxide-mediated dilation to adenosine at 8 weeks of hypertension in coronary arterioles, but not cerebral arterioles.

These findings, coupled with the observation that temporal changes in wall constituents and the presence of macrophages differed significantly between the thoracic aorta and coronary arteries, confirm a strong differential progressive remodeling within different vascular beds.

These results suggest a spatiotemporal progression of vascular remodeling, beginning first in large elastic arteries and delayed in distal vessels.

Hayenga HN, Hu J-J, Meyer CA, Wilson E, Hein TW, Kuo L and Humphrey JD  Differential progressive remodeling of coronary and cerebral arteries and arterioles in an aortic coarctation model of hypertension. Front. Physio. 2012; 3:420. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00420

C-reactive protein oxidant-mediated release of pro-thrombotic  factor

Inflammation and the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated in the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Although C-reactive protein (CRP) has traditionally been considered to be a biomarker of inflammation, recent in vitro and in vivo studies have provided evidence that CRP, itself, exerts pro-thrombotic effects on vascular cells and may thus play a critical role in the development of atherothrombosis. Of particular importance is that CRP interacts with Fcγ receptors on cells of the vascular wall giving rise to the release of pro-thrombotic factors. The present review focuses on distinct sources of CRP-mediated ROS generation as well as the pivotal role of ROS in CRP-induced tissue factor expression. These studies provide considerable insight into the role of the oxidative mechanisms in CRP-mediated stimulation of pro-thrombotic factors and activation of platelets. Collectively, the available data provide strong support for ROS playing an important intermediary role in the relationship between CRP and atherothrombosis.

Zhang Z, Yang Y, Hill MA and Wu J.  Does C-reactive protein contribute to atherothrombosis via oxidant-mediated release of pro-thrombotic factors and activation of platelets? Front. Physio.  2012; 3:433. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00433

CRP association with Peripheral Vascular Disease

To determine whether the increase in plasma levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a non-specifi c reactant in the acute-phase of systemic infl ammation, is associated with clinical severity of peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

This is a cross-sectional study at a referral hospital center of institutional practice in Madrid, Spain.  These investigators took a stratifi ed random sampling of 3370 patients with symptomatic PAD from the outpatient vascular laboratory database in 2007 in the order of their clinical severity:

  • the fi rst group of patients with mild chronological clinical severity who did not require surgical revascularization,
  • the second group consisted of patients with moderate clinical severity who had only undergone only one surgical revascularization procedure and
  • the third group consisted of patients who were severely affected and had undergone two or more surgical revascularization procedures of the lower extremities in different areas or needed late re-interventions.

The Neyman affi xation was used to calculate the sample size with a fi xed relative error of 0.1.

A homogeneity analysis between groups and a unifactorial analysis of comparison of medians for CRP was done.

The groups were homogeneous for

  • age
  • smoking status
  • Arterial Hypertension
  • diabetes mellitus
  • dyslipemia
  • homocysteinemia and
  • specifi c markers of infl ammation.

In the unifactorial analysis of multiple comparisons of medians according to Scheffé, it was observed that

the median values of CRP plasma levels were increased in association with higher clinical severity of PAD

  • 3.81 mg/L [2.14–5.48] vs.
  • 8.33 [4.38–9.19] vs.
  • 12.83 [9.5–14.16]; p  0.05

as a unique factor of tested ones.

Plasma levels of CRP are associated with not only the presence of atherosclerosis but also with its chronological clinical severity.

De Haro J, Acin F, Medina FJ, Lopez-Quintana A, and  March JR.  Relationship Between the Plasma Concentration of C-Reactive Protein and Severity of Peripheral Arterial Disease.
Clinical Medicine: Cardiology 2009;3: 1–7

Hemostasis induced by hyperhomocysteinemia

Elevated concentration of homocysteine (Hcy) in human tissues, defined as hyperhomocysteinemia has been correlated with some diseases, such as

  • cardiovascular
  • neurodegenerative
  • kidney disorders

L-Homocysteine (Hcy) is an endogenous amino acid, containing a free thiol group, which in healthy cells is involved in methionine and cysteine synthesis/resynthesis. Indirectly, Hcy participates in methyl, folate, and cellular thiol metabolism. Approximately 80% of total plasma Hcy is protein-bound, and only a small amount exists as a free reduced Hcy (about 0.1 μM). The majority of the unbound fraction of Hcy is oxidized, and forms dimers (homocystine) or mixed disulphides consisting of cysteine and Hcy.

Two main pathways of Hcy biotoxicity are discussed:

  1. Hcy-dependent oxidative stress – generated during oxidation of the free thiol group of Hcy. Hcy binds via a disulphide bridge with

—     plasma proteins

—     or with other low-molecular plasma  thiols

—     or with a second Hcy molecule.

Accumulation of oxidized biomolecules alters the biological functions of many cellular pathways.

  1. Hcy-induced protein structure modifications, named homocysteinylation.

Two main types of homocysteinylation exist: S-homocysteinylation and N-homocysteinylation; both considered as posttranslational protein modifications.

a)      S-homocysteinylation occurs when Hcy reacts, by its free thiol group, with another free thiol derived from a cysteine residue in a protein molecule.

These changes can alter the thiol-dependent redox status of proteins.

b)      N-homocysteinylation takes place after acylation of the free ε-amino lysine groups of proteins by the most reactive form of Hcy — its cyclic thioester (Hcy thiolactone — HTL), representing up to 0.29% of total plasma Hcy.

Homocysteine occurs in human blood plasma in several forms, including the most reactive one, the homocysteine thiolactone (HTL) — a cyclic thioester, which represents up to 0.29% of total plasma Hcy. In human blood, N-homocysteinylated (N-Hcy-protein) and S-homocysteinylated proteins (S-Hcy-protein) such as NHcy-hemoglobin, N-(Hcy-S-S-Cys)-albumin, and S-Hcyalbumin are known. Other pathways of Hcy biotoxicity might be apoptosis and excitotoxicity mediated through glutamate receptors. The relationship between homocysteine and risk appears to hold for total plasma concentrations of homocysteine between 10 and 30 μM.

Different forms of homocysteine present in human blood.

*Total level of homocysteine — the term “total homocysteine” describes the pool of homocysteine released by reduction of all disulphide bonds in the sample (Perla-Kajan et al., 2007; Zimny, 2008; Manolescu et al., 2010, modified).

The form of Hcy The concentration in human blood
Homocysteine thiolactone (HTL) 0–35 nM
Protein N-linked homocysteine:
N-Hcy-hemoglobin, N-(Hcy-S-S-Cys)-albumin
about 15.5 μM: 12.7 μM, 2.8 μM
Protein S-linked homocysteine — S-Hcy-albumin about 7.3 μM*
Homocystine (Hcy-S-S-Hcy) and combined with cysteine to from mixed disulphides (Hcy-S-S-Cys) about 2 μM*
Free reduced Hcy about 0.1 μM*

As early as in the 1960s it was noted that the risk of atherosclerosis is markedly increased in patients with homocystinuria, an inherited disease resulting from homozygous CBS deficiency and characterized by episodes of

—     thromboembolism

—     mental retardation

—     lens dislocation

—     hepatic steatosis

—     osteoporosis.

—     very high concentrations of plasma homocysteine and methionine.

Patients with homocystinuria have very severe hyperhomocysteinemia, with plasma homocysteine concentration reaching even 400 μM, and represent a very small proportion of the population (approximately 1 in 200,000 individuals). Heterozygous lack of CBS, CBS mutations and polymorphism of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene are considered to be the most probable causes of hyperhomocysteinemia.

The effects of hyperhomocysteinemia include the complex process of hemostasis, which regulates the properties of blood flow. Interactions of homocysteine and its different derivatives, including homocysteine thiolactone, with the major components of hemostasis are:

  • endothelial cells
  • platelets
  • fibrinogen
  • plasminogen

Elevated plasma Hcy (>15 μM; Hcy) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases

  • thrombosis
  • thrombosis related diseases
  • ischemic brain stroke (independent of other, conventional risk factors of this disease)

Every increase of 2.5 μM in plasma Hcy may be associated with an increase of stroke risk of about 20%.  Total plasma Hcy level above 20 μM are associated with a nine-fold increase of the myocardial infarction and stroke risk, in comparison to the concentrations below 9 μM. The increase of Hcy concentration has been also found in other human pathologies, including neurodegenerative diseases

Modifications of hemostatic proteins (N-homocysteinylation or S-homocysteinylation) induced by Hcy or its thiolactone seem to be the main cause of homocysteine biotoxicity in hemostatic abnormalities.

Hcy and HTL may act as oxidants, but various polyphenolic antioxidants are able to inhibit the oxidative damage induced by Hcy or HTL. Therefore, we have to consider the role of phenolic antioxidants in hyperhomocysteinemia –induced changes in hemostasis.

The synthesis of homocysteine thiolactone is associated with the activation of the amino acid by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (AARS). Hcy may also undergo erroneous activation, e.g. by methionyl-t-RNA synthetase (MetRS). In the first step of conversion of Hcy to HTL, MetRS misactivates Hcy giving rise to homocysteinyl-adenylate. In the next phase, the homocysteine side chain thiol group reacts with the activated carboxyl group and HTL is produced. The level of HTL synthesis in cultured cells depends on Hcy and Met levels.

Hyperhomocysteinemia and Changes in Fibrinolysis and Coagulation Process

The fibrinolytic activity of blood is regulated by specific inhibitors; the inhibition of fibrinolysis takes place at the level of plasminogen activation (by PA-inhibitors: plasminogen activator inhibitor type-1, -2; PAI-1 or PAI-2) or at the level of plasmin activity (mainly by α2-antiplasmin). Hyperhomocysteinemia disturbs hemostasis and shifts the hemostatic mechanisms in favor of thrombosis. The recent reports indicate that the prothrombotic state observed in hyperhomocysteinemia may arise not only due to endothelium dysfunction or blood platelet and coagulation activation, but also due to impaired fibrinolysis. Hcy-modified fibrinogen is more resistant to the fibrinolytic action. Oral methionine load increases total Hcy, but may diminish the fibrinolytic activity of the euglobulin plasma fraction. Homocysteine-lowering therapies may increase fibrinolytic activity, thereby, prevent atherothrombotic events in patients with cardiovascular diseases after the first myocardial infarction.

Homocysteine — Fibronectin Interaction and its Consequences

Fibronectin (Fn) plays key roles in

  • cell adhesion
  • migration
  • embryogenesis
  • differentiation
  • hemostasis
  • thrombosis
  • wound healing
  • tissue remodeling

Interaction of FN with fibrin, mediated by factor XIII transglutaminase, is thought to be important for cell adhesion or cell migration into fibrin clots. After tissue injury, a blood clot formation serves the dual role of restoring vascular integrity and serving as a temporary scaffold for the wound healing process. Fibrin and plasma FN, the major protein components of blood clots, are essential to perform these functions. In the blood clotting process, after fibrin deposition, plasma FN-fibrin matrix is covalently crosslinked, and it then promotes fibroblast adhesion, spreading, and migration into the clot.

Homocysteine binds to several human plasma proteins, including fibronectin. If homocysteine binds to fibronectin via a disulphide linkage, this binding results in a functional change, namely, the inhibition of fibrin binding by fibronectin. This inhibition may lead to a prolonged recovery from a thrombotic event and contribute to vascular occlusion.

Grape seeds are one of the richest plant sources of phenolic substances, and grape seed extract reduces the toxic effect of Hcys and HTL on fibrinolysis. The grape seed extract (12.5–50 μg/ml) supported plasminogen to plasmin conversion inhibited by Hcys or HTL. In vitro experiments showed in the presence of grape seed extract (at the highest tested concentration — 50 μg/ml) the increase of about 78% (for human plasminogen-treated with Hcys) and 56% (for human plasma-treated with Hcys). Thus, in the in vitro model system, that the grape seed extract (12.5–50 μg/ml) diminished the reduction of thiol groups and of lysine ε-amino groups in plasma proteins treated with Hcys (0.1 mM) or HTL (1 μM). In the presence of the grape seed extract at the concentration of 50 μg/ml, the level of reduction of thiol groups reached about 45% (for plasma treated with Hcys) and about 15% (for plasma treated with HTL).

In the presence of the grape seed extract at the concentration of 50 μg/ml, the level of reduction of thiol groups reached about 45% (for plasma treated with Hcys) and about 15% (for plasma treated with HTL).Very similar protective effects of the grape seed extract were observed in the measurements of lysine ε-amino groups in plasma proteins treated with Hcys or HTL. These results indicated that the extract from berries of Aronia melanocarpa (a rich source of phenolic substances) reduces the toxic effects of Hcy and HTL on the hemostatic properties of fibrinogen and plasma. These findings indicate a possible protective action of the A. melanocarpa extract in hyperhomocysteinemia-induced cardiovascular disorders. Moreover, the extract from berries of A. melanocarpa, due to its antioxidant action, significantly attenuated the oxidative stress (assessed by measuring of the total antioxidant status — TAS) in plasma in a model of hyperhomocysteinemia.

Proposed model for the protective role of phenolic antioxidants on selected elements of hemostasis during hyperhomocysteinemia.

various antioxidants (present in human diet), including phenolic compounds, may reduce the toxic effects of Hcy or its derivatives on hemostasis. These findings give hope for the develop development of dietary supplements, which will be capable of preventing thrombosis which occurs under pathological conditions, observed also in hyperhomocysteinemia, such as plasma procoagulant activity and oxidative stress.

Malinowska J,  Kolodziejczyk J and Olas B. The disturbance of hemostasis induced by hyper-homocysteinemia; the role of antioxidants. Acta Biochimica Polonica 2012; 59(2): 185–194.

Lipoprotein (a)

Lipoprotein (a) (Lp(a)), for the first time described in 1963 by Berg belongs to the lipoproteins with the strongest atherogenic effect. Its importance for the development of various atherosclerotic vasculopathies (coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, peripheral vasculopathy, abdominal aneurysm) was recognized considerably later.

Lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)), an established risk marker of cardiovascular diseases, is independent from other risk markers. The main difference of Lp(a) compared to low density lipoprotein (LDL) is the apo(a) residue, covalently bound to apoB is covalently by a disulfide-bridge. Apo(a) synthesis is performed in the liver, probably followed by extracellular assembly to the apoB location of the LDL.


ApoB-100_______LDL¬¬___ S-S –    9

Apo(a) has been detected bound to triglyceride-rich lipoproteins (Very Low Density Lipoproteins; VLDL). Corresponding to the structural similarity to LDL, both particles are very similar to each other with regard to their composition. It is a glycoprotein which underlies a large genetic polymorphism caused by a variation of the kringle-IV-type-2 repeats of the protein, characterized by a structural homology to plasminogen. Apo(a)’s structural homology to plasminogen, shares the gene localization on chromosome 6. The kringle repeats present a particularly characteristic structure, which have a high similarity to kringle IV (K IV) of plasminogen. Apo(a) also has a kringle V structure of plasminogen and also a protease domain, which cannot be activated, as opposed to the one of plasminogen. At least 30 genetically determined apo(a) isoforms were identified in man.


  • Non covalent binding of kringle -4 types 7 and 8 of apo (a) to apo B
  • Disulfide bond at Cys4326 of ApoB (near its receptor binding domain ) and the only free cysteine group in K –IV type 9 (Cys4057) of apo(a )
  • Binding to fibrin and cell membranes
  • Enhancement by small isoforms ; high concentrations compared to plasminogen and homocysteine
  • Binding to different lysine rich components of the coagulation system (e. g. TFPI)
  • Intense homology to plasminogen but no protease activity
ApoB-100_______LDL¬¬___ S-S – 9

The synthesis of Lp(a), which thus occurs as part of an assembly, is a two-step process.

  • In a first step, which can be competitively inhibited by lysine analogues, the free sulfhydryl groups of apo(a) and apoB are brought close together.
  • The binding of apo(a) then occurs near the apoB domain which binds to the LDL receptor, resulting in a reduced affinity of Lp(a) to the LDL-receptor.

Particles that show a reduced affinity to the LDL receptor are not able to form stable compounds with apo(a). Thus the largest part of apo(a) is present as apo(a) bound to LDL. Only a small, quantitatively variable part of apo(a) remains as free apo(a) and probably plays an important role in the metabolism and physiological function of Lp(a).

The Lp(a) plasma concentration in the population is highly skewed and determined to more than 90 % by genetic factors. In healthy subjects the Lp(a)-concentration is correlated with its synthesis.

It is assumed that the kidney has a specific function in Lp(a) catabolizm, since nephrotic syndrome and terminal kidney failure are associated with an elevation of the Lp(a) plasma concentration. One consequence of the poor knowledge of the metabolic path of Lp(a) is the fact that so far pharmaceutical science has failed to develop drugs that are able to reduce elevated Lp(a) plasma concentrations to a desirable level.

Plasma concentrations of Lp(a) are affected by different diseases (e.g. diseases of liver and kidney), hormonal factors (e.g. sexual steroids, glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones), individual and environmental factors (e.g. age, cigarette smoking) as well as pharmaceuticals (e.g. derivatives of nicotinic acid) and therapeutic procedures (lipid apheresis). This review describes the physiological regulation of Lp(a) as well as factors influencing its plasma concentration.

Apart from its significance as an important agent in the development of atherosclerosis, Lp(a) has even more physiological functions, e.g. in

  • wound healing
  • angiogenesis
  • hemostasis

However, in the meaning of a pleiotropic mechanism the favorable action mechanisms are opposed by pathogenic mechanisms, whereby the importance of Lp(a) in atherogenesis is stressed.

Lp(a) in Atherosclerosis

In transgenic, hyperlipidemic and Lp(a) expressing Watanabe rabbits, Lp(a) leads to enhanced atherosclerosis. Under the influence of Lp(a), the binding of Lp(a) to glycoproteins, e.g. laminin, results – via its apo(a)-part – both in

  • an increased invasion of inflammatory cells and in
  • an activation of smooth vascular muscle cells

with subsequent calcifications in the vascular wall.

The inhibition of transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) activation is another mechanism via which Lp(a) contributes to the development of atherosclerotic vasculopathies. TGF-β1 is subject to proteolytic activation by plasmin and its active form leads to an inhibition of the proliferation and migration of smooth muscle cells, which play a central role in the formation and progression of atherosclerotic vascular diseases.

In man, Lp(a) is an important risk marker which is independent of other risk markers. Its importance, partly also under consideration of the molecular weight and other genetic polymorphisms, could be demonstrated by a high number of epidemiological and clinical studies investigating the formation and progression of atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and stroke.

Lp(a) in Hemostasis

Lp(a) is able to competitively inhibit the binding of plasminogen to fibrinogen and fibrin, and to inhibit the fibrin-dependent activation of plasminogen to plasmin via the tissue plasminogen activator, whereby apo(a) isoforms of low molecular weight have a higher affinity to fibrin than apo(a) isoforms of higher molecular weight. Like other compounds containing sulfhydryl groups, homocysteine enhances the binding of Lp(a) to fibrin.

Pleiotropic effect of Lp(a).

Prothrombotic :

  • Binding to fibrin
  • Competitive inhibition of plasminogen
  • Stimulation of plasminogen activator inhibitor I and II (PAI -I, PAI -II)
  • Inactivation of tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI)

Antithrombotic :

  • Inhibition of platelet activating factor acetylhydrolase (PAF -AH)
  • Inhibition of platelet activating factor
  • Inhibition of collagen dependent platelet aggregation
  • Inhibition of secretion of serotonin und thromboxane

Lp(a) in Angiogenesis

Lp(a) is also important for the process of angiogenesis and the sprouting of new vessels.

  • angiogenesis starts with the remodelling of matrix proteins and
  • activation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP).

The latter ones are usually synthesised as

  • inactive zymogens and
  • require activation by proteases,

Recall that Apo(a) is not activated by proteases. The angiogenesis is also accomplished by plasminogen. Lp(a) and apo(a) and its fragments has an antiangiogenetic and metastasis inhibiting effect related to the structural homology with plasminogen without the protease activity.

Siekmeier R, Scharnagl H, Kostner GM, T. Grammer T, Stojakovic T and März W.  Variation of Lp(a) Plasma Concentrations in Health and Disease.  The Open Clinical Chemistry Journal, 2010; 3: 72-89.


In 1985, Brown and Goldstein were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for their work on the regulation of cholesterol metabolism. On the basis of numerous studies, they were able to demonstrate that circulating low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is absorbed into the cell through receptor linked endocytosis. The absorption of LDL into the cell is specific and is mediated by a LDL receptor. In patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, this receptor is changed, and the LDL particles can no longer be recognized. Their absorption can thus no longer be mediated, leading to an accumulation of LDL in blood.

Furthermore, an excess supply of cholesterol also blocks the 3-hydrox-3 methylglutaryl-Co enzyme A (HMG CoA), reductase enzyme, which otherwise inhibits the cholesterol synthesis rate. Brown and Goldstein also determined the structure of the LDL receptor. They discovered structural defects in this receptor in many patients with familial hypercholesterolemia. Thus, familial hypercholesterolemia was the first metabolic disease that could be tracked back to the mutation of a receptor gene.

Dyslipoproteinemia in combination with diabetes mellitus causes a cumulative insult to the vasculature resulting in more severe disease which occurs at an earlier age in large and small vessels as well as capillaries. The most common clinical conditions resulting from this combination are myocardial infarction and lower extremity vascular disease. Ceriello et al. show an independent and cumulative effect of postprandial hypertriglyceridemia and hyperglycemia on endothelial function, suggesting oxidative stress as common mediator of such effect. The combination produces greater morbidity and mortality than either alone.

As an antiatherogenic factor, HDL cholesterol correlates inversely to the extent of postprandial lipemia. A high concentration of HDL is a sign that triglyceride-rich particles are quickly decomposed in the postprandial phase of lipemia. Conversely, with a low HDL concentration this decomposition is delayed. Thus, excessively high triglyceride concentrations are accompanied by very low HDL counts. This combination has also been associated with an increased risk of pancreatitis.

The importance of lipoprotein (a) (Lp(a)) as an atherogenic substance has also been recognized in recent years. Lp(a) is very similar to LDL. But it also contains Apo(a), which is very similar to plasminogen, enabling Lp(a) to bind to fibrin clots. Binding of plasminogen is prevented and fibrinolysis obstructed. Thrombi are integrated into the walls of the arteries and become plaque components.

Another strong risk factor for accelerated atherogenesis, which must be mentioned here, are the widespread high homocysteine levels found in dialysis patients. This risk factor is independent of classic risk factors such as high cholesterol and LDL levels, smoking, hypertension, and obesity, and much more predictive of coronary events in dialysis patients than are these better-known factors. Homocysteine is a sulfur aminoacid produced in the metabolism of methionine. Under normal conditions, about 50 percent of homocysteine is remethylated to methionine and the remaining via the transsulfuration pathway.

Defining hyperhomocysteinemia as levels greater than the 90th percentile of controls and elevated Lp(a) level as greater than 30mg/dL, the frequency of the combination increased with declining renal function. Fifty-eight percent of patients with a GFR less than 10mL/min had both hyperhomocysteinemia and elevated Lp(a) levels, and even in patients with mild renal impairment, 20 percent of patients had both risk factors present.

The prognosis of patients suffering from severe hyperlipidemia, sometimes combined with elevated lipoprotein (a) levels, and coronary heart disease refractory to diet and lipid-lowering drugs is poor. For such patients, regular treatment with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) apheresis is the therapeutic option. Today, there are five different LDL-apheresis systems available: cascade filtration or lipid filtration, immunoadsorption, heparin-induced LDL precipitation, dextran sulfate LDL adsorption, and the LDL hemoperfusion. The requirement that the original level of cholesterol is to be reduced by at least 60 percent is fulfilled by all these systems.

There is a strong correlation between hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis. Besides the elimination of other risk factors, in severe hyperlipidemia therapeutic strategies should focus on a drastic reduction of serum lipoproteins. Despite maximum conventional therapy with a combination of different kinds of lipid-lowering drugs, sometimes the goal of therapy cannot be reached. Hence, in such patients, treatment with LDL-apheresis is indicated. Technical and clinical aspects of these five different LDL-apheresis methods are depicted. There were no significant differences with respect to or concerning all cholesterols, or triglycerides observed.

High plasma levels of Lp(a) are associated with an increased risk for atherosclerotic coronary heart       disease
(CHD) by a mechanism yet to be determined. Because of its structural properties, Lp(a) can have both atherogenic and thrombogenic potentials. The means for correcting the high plasma levels of Lp(a) are still limited in effectiveness. All drug therapies tried thus far have failed. The most effective therapeutic methods in lowering Lp(a) are the LDL-apheresismethods. Since 1993, special immunoadsorption polyclonal antibody columns (Pocard, Moscow, Russia) containing sepharose bound anti-Lp(a) have been available for the treatment of patients with elevated Lp(a) serum concentrations.

With respect to elevated lipoprotein (a) levels, however, the immunoadsorption method seems to be most effective. The different published data clearly demonstrate that treatment with LDL-apheresis in patients suffering from severe hyperlipidemia refractory to maximum conservative therapy is effective and safe in long-term application.

LDL-apheresis decreases not only LDL mass but also improves the patient’s life expectancy. LDL-apheresis performed with different techniques decreases the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation. This decrease may be related to a temporary mass imbalance between freshly produced and older LDL particles. Furthermore, the baseline fatty acid pattern influences pretreatment and postreatment susceptibility to oxidation.

Bambauer R, Bambauer C, Lehmann B, Latza R, and Ralf Schiel R. LDL-Apheresis: Technical and Clinical Aspects. The Scientific World Journal 2012; Article ID 314283, pp 1-19. doi:10.1100/2012/314283

Summary:  This discussion is a two part sequence that first establishes the known strong relationship between blood flow viscosity, shear stress, and plasma triglycerides (VLDL) as risk factors for hemostatic disorders leading to thromboembolic disease, and the association with atherosclerotic disease affecting the heart, the brain (via carotid blood flow), peripheral circulation,the kidneys, and retinopathy as well.

The second part discusses the modeling of hemostasis and takes into account the effects of plasma proteins involved with red cell and endothelial interaction, which is related to part I.  The current laboratory assessment of thrombophilias is taken from a consensus document of the American Society for Clinical Pathology.  The problems encountered are sufficient for the most common problems of coagulation testing and monitoring, but don’t address the large number of patients who are at risk for complications of accelerated vasoconstrictive systemic disease that precede serious hemostatic problems.  Special attention is given to Lp(a) and to homocysteine.  Lp(a) is a protein that has both prothrombotic and antithrombotic characteristics, and is a homologue of plasminogen and is composed of an apo(a) bound to LDL.  Unlike plasminogen, it has no protease activity.   Homocysteine elevation is a known risk factor for downstream myocardial infarct.  Homocysteine is a mirror into sulfur metabolism, so an increase is an independent predictor of risk, not fully discussed here.  The modification of risk is discussed by diet modification.  In the most serious cases of lipoprotein disorders, often including Lp(a) the long term use of LDL-apheresis is described.

see Relevent article that appears in NEJM from American College of Cardiology

Apolipoprotein(a) Genetic Sequence Variants Associated With Systemic Atherosclerosis and Coronary Atherosclerotic Burden but Not With Venous Thromboembolism

Helgadottir A, Gretarsdottir S, Thorleifsson G, et al

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012;60:722-729

Study Summary

The LPA gene codes for apolipoprotein(a), which, when linked with low-density lipoprotein particles, forms lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)] — a well-studied molecule associated with coronary artery disease (CAD). The Lp(a) molecule has both atherogenic and thrombogenic effects in vitro , but the extent to which these translate to differences in how atherothrombotic disease presents is unknown.

LPA contains many single-nucleotide polymorphisms, and 2 have been identified by previous groups as being strongly associated with levels of Lp(a) and, as a consequence, strongly associated with CAD. However, because atherosclerosis is thought to be a systemic disease, it is unclear to what extent Lp(a) leads to atherosclerosis in other arterial beds (eg, carotid, abdominal aorta, and lower extremity), as well as to other thrombotic disorders (eg, ischemic/cardioembolic stroke and venous thromboembolism). Such distinctions are important, because therapies that might lower Lp(a) could potentially reduce forms of atherosclerosis beyond the coronary tree.

To answer this question, Helgadottir and colleagues compiled clinical and genetic data on the LPA gene from thousands of previous participants in genetic research studies from across the world. They did not have access to Lp(a) levels, but by knowing the genotypes for 2 LPA variants, they inferred the levels of Lp(a) on the basis of prior associations between these variants and Lp(a) levels. [1] Their studies included not only individuals of white European descent but also a significant proportion of black persons, in order to widen the generalizability of their results.

Their main findings are that LPA variants (and, by proxy, Lp(a) levels) are associated with CAD,  peripheral arterial disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, number of CAD vessels, age at onset of CAD diagnosis, and large-artery atherosclerosis-type stroke. They did not find an association with cardioembolic or small-vessel disease-type stroke; intracranial aneurysm; venous thrombosis; carotid intima thickness; or, in a small subset of individuals, myocardial infarction.


The main conclusion to draw from this work is that Lp(a) is probably a strong causal factor in not only CAD, but also the development of atherosclerosis in other arterial trees. Although there is no evidence from this study that Lp(a) levels contribute to venous thrombosis, the investigators do not exclude a role for Lp(a) in arterial thrombosis.

Large-artery atherosclerosis stroke is thought to involve some element of arterial thrombosis or thromboembolism, [2] and genetic substudies of randomized trials of aspirin demonstrate that individuals with LPA variants predicted to have elevated levels of Lp(a) benefit the most from antiplatelet therapy. [3] Together, these data suggest that Lp(a) probably has clinically relevant effects on the development of atherosclerosis and arterial thrombosis.

Of  note, the investigators found no association between Lp(a) and carotid intima thickness, suggesting that either intima thickness is a poor surrogate for the clinical manifestations of atherosclerosis or that Lp(a) affects a distinct step in the atherosclerotic disease process that is not demonstrable in the carotid arteries.

Although Lp(a) testing is available, these studies do not provide any evidence that testing for Lp(a) is of clinical benefit, or that screening for atherosclerosis should go beyond well-described clinical risk factors, such as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, high-density lipoprotein levels, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and family history. Until evidence demonstrates that adding information on Lp(a) levels to routine clinical practice improves the ability of physicians to identify those at highest risk for atherosclerosis, Lp(a) testing should remain a research tool. Nevertheless, these findings do suggest that therapies to lower Lp(a) may have benefits that extend to forms of atherothrombosis beyond the coronary tree.

The finding of this study is interesting:

[1] It consistent with Dr. William LaFramboise..   examination specifically at APO B100, which is part of Lp(a) with some 14 candidate predictors for a more accurate exclusion of patients who don’t need intervention.          Apo B100 was not one of 5 top candidates.

William LaFramboise • Our study ( comprised discovery research using targeted immunochemical screening of retrospective patient samples using both Luminex and Aushon platforms as opposed to shotgun proteomics. Hence the costs constrained sample numbers. Nevertheless, our ability to predict outcome substantially exceeded available methods:

The Framingham CHD scores were statistically different between groups (P <0.001, unpaired Student’s t test) but they classified only 16% of the subjects without significant CAD (10 of 63) at a 95% sensitivity for patients with CAD. In contrast, our algorithm incorporating serum values for OPN, RES, CRP, MMP7 and IFNγ identified 63% of the subjects without significant CAD (40 of 63) at 95% sensitivity for patients with CAD. Thus, our multiplex serum protein classifier correctly identified four times as many patients as the Framingham index.

This study is consistent with the concept of CAD, PVD, and atheromatous disease is a systemic vascular disease, but the point that is made is that it appears to have no relationship to venous thrombosis. The importance for predicting thrombotic events is considered serious.   The venous flow does not have the turbulence of large arteries, so the conclusion is no surprise.  The flow in capillary beds is a linear cell passage with minimal viscosity or turbulence.  The finding of no association with carotid artery disease  is interpreted to mean that the Lp(a) might be an earlier finding than carotid intimal thickness.  It is reassuring to find a recommendation for antiplatelet therapy for individuals with LPA variants based on randomized trials of aspirin substudies.

If that is the conclusion from the studies, and based on the strong association between the prothrombotic (pleiotropic) effect and the association with hyperhomocysteinemia, my own impression is that the recommendation is short-sighted.

[2]  Lp(a) is able to competitively inhibit the binding of plasminogen to fibrinogen and fibrin, and to inhibit the fibrin-dependent activation of plasminogen to plasmin via the tissue plasminogen activator, whereby apo(a) isoforms of low molecular weight have a higher affinity to fibrin than apo(a) isoforms of higher molecular weight. Like other compounds containing sulfhydryl groups, homocysteine enhances the binding of Lp(a) to fibrin.

Prothrombotic :

  • Binding to fibrin
  • Competitive inhibition of plasminogen
  • Stimulation of plasminogen activator inhibitor I and II (PAI -I, PAI -II)
  • Inactivation of tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI)

Source for Lp(a)

Artherogenesis: Predictor of CVD – the Smaller and Denser LDL Particles

References on Triglycerides and blood viscosity

Lowe GD, Lee AJ, Rumley A, et al. Blood viscosity and risk of cardiovascular events: the Edinburgh Artery Study. Br J Haematol 1997; 96:168-173.

Sloop GD. A unifying theory of atherogenesis. Med Hypotheses. 1996; 47:321-5.
Smith WC, Lowe GD, et al. Rheological determinants of blood pressure in a Scottish adult population. J Hypertens 1992; 10:467-72.

Letcher RL, Chien S, et al. Direct relationship between blood pressure and blood viscosity in normal and hypertensive subjects. Role of fibrinogen and concentration. Am J Med 1981; 70:1195-1202.

Devereux RB, Case DB, Alderman MH, et al. Possible role of increased blood viscosity in the hemodynamics of systemic hypertension. Am J Cardiol 2000; 85:1265-1268.

Levenson J, Simon AC, Cambien FA, Beretti C. Cigarette smoking and hypertension. Factors independently associated with blood hyperviscosity and arterial rigidity. Arteriosclerosis 1987; 7:572-577.

Sloop GD, Garber DW. The effects of low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein on blood viscosity correlate with their association with risk of atherosclerosis in humans. Clin Sci 1997; 92:473-479.

Lowe GD. Blood viscosity, lipoproteins, and cardiovascular risk. Circulation 1992; 85:2329-2331.

Rosenson RS, Shott S, Tangney CC. Hypertriglyceridemia is associated with an elevated blood viscosity: triglycerides and blood viscosity. Atherosclerosis 2002; 161:433-9.

Stamos TD, Rosenson RS. Low high density lipoprotein levels are associated with an elevated blood viscosity. Atherosclerosis 1999; 146:161-5.

Hoieggen A, Fossum E, Moan A, Enger E, Kjeldsen SE. Whole-blood viscosity and the insulin-resistance syndrome. J Hypertens 1998; 16:203-10.

de Simone G, Devereux RB, Chien S, et al. Relation of blood viscosity to demographic and physiologic variables and to cardiovascular risk factors in apparently normal adults. Circulation 1990; 81:107-17.

Rosenson RS, McCormick A, Uretz EF. Distribution of blood viscosity values and biochemical correlates in healthy adults. Clin Chem 1996; 42:1189-95.

Tamariz LJ, Young JH, Pankow JS, et al. Blood viscosity and hematocrit as risk factors for type 2 diabetes mellitus: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Epidemiol 2008; 168:1153-60.

Jax TW, Peters AJ, Plehn G, Schoebel FC. Hemostatic risk factors in patients with coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes – a two year follow-up of 243 patients. Cardiovasc Diabetol 2009; 8:48.

Ernst E, Weihmayr T, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors and hemorheology. Physical fitness, stress and obesity. Atherosclerosis 1986; 59:263-9.

Hoieggen A, Fossum E, et al. Whole-blood viscosity and the insulin-resistance syndrome. J Hypertens 1998; 16:203-10.

Carroll S, Cooke CB, Butterly RJ. Plasma viscosity, fibrinogen and the metabolic syndrome: effect of obesity and cardiorespiratory fitness. Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis 2000; 11:71-8.

Ernst E, Koenig W, Matrai A, et al. Blood rheology in healthy cigarette smokers. Results from the MONICA project, Augsburg. Arteriosclerosis 1988; 8:385-8.

Ernst E. Haemorheological consequences of chronic cigarette smoking. J Cardiovasc Risk 1995; 2:435-9.

Lowe GD, Drummond MM, Forbes CD, Barbenel JC. The effects of age and cigarette-smoking on blood and plasma viscosity in men. Scott Med J 1980; 25:13-7.

Kameneva MV, Watach MJ, Borovetz HS. Gender difference in rheologic properties of blood and risk of cardiovascular diseases. Clin Hemorheol Microcirc 1999; 21:357-363.

Fowkes FG, Pell JP, Donnan PT, et al. Sex differences in susceptibility to etiologic factors for peripheral atherosclerosis. Importance of plasma fibrinogen and blood viscosity. Arterioscler Thromb 1994; 14:862-8.

Coppola L, Caserta F, De Lucia D, et al. Blood viscosity and aging. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2000; 31:35-42.


Read Full Post »