MONDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Damage to tiny blood vessels in the brain might be a secondary contributor to Alzheimer's disease, a new, small study suggests.
Areas of this blood vessel damage, called white matter hyperintensities, are found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease and appear to raise the risk for the condition, the researchers report. It is believed that the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques in the brain are a primary factor in the development of the memory-robbing condition.
"If you have both these white matter hyperintensities and amyloid in the brain, then you are more likely to get Alzheimer's disease down the road than if you just have one of these," said study senior author Adam Brickman, an assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain.
The exact connection between this vessel damage and Alzheimer's disease isn't exactly clear, he added. While the study showed an association between the two, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
"There are a number of things that happen through aging that can influence the vessels of the brain, but there also might be an interaction with Alzheimer's disease itself, where the disease is damaging the vessels or the vessel damage is causing the Alzheimer's disease," Brickman explained.
These tiny vessels might also become damaged through a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, low blood pressure, oxidative stress, diabetes or inflammation, he explained.
The goal of the research is to one day target these damaged vessels as a way to slow or prevent Alzheimer's disease, Brickman said.
"Maybe not a primary target, but certainly a potential target," he said. "If we know what the risk factors for white matter disease are, they are perfectly reasonable targets for e
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