Beginning in midlife, heart disease leads to subtle blood-flow problems in the brain that develop insidiously, gradually damaging neurons and contributing to cognitive decline. Knowledge of clinically silent blood-flow problems in the brain has led to the “healthy heart, healthy mind” hypothesis that preventing or treating heart disease also may help prevent age-associated cognitive decline.
However, the healthy heart, healthy mind hypothesis has been difficult to test because of a lack of validated markers of subtle blood-flow problems in the brains of otherwise healthy elderly adults. Owen Carmichael, associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurology, will work to develop such biomarkers through a new two-year, $100,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Carmichael and his colleagues will enroll 50 cognitively healthy people who already have received multiple clinical evaluations, cognitive testing and MRIs at the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center. They will receive an additional MRI scan designed to detect subtle blood-flow disruptions that may develop over time and damage brain tissue. They also will receive PET scans to measure their amyloid burden and determine whether preclinical Alzheimer’s disease is promoting brain injury and cognitive decline concurrent with blood-flow problems. Amyloid beta plaques in the brain have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
“We will evaluate the usefulness of our cerebrovascular measurements by examining how they relate to MRI-based measurements of brain injury and cognitive function,” Carmichael said. “Success in this project could lead to the use of these imaging markers for clinical assessment of preclinical cerebrovascular disease and for measuring the effects of cardiovascular treatments on the aging brain.”