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New Piece of Alzheimer's Puzzle Identified

THURSDAY, Dec. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A problem in the lining of blood vessels may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study.

The condition, called endothelial dysfunction, involves a loss of nitric oxide in the endothelium, the layer of cells that line blood vessels. Nitric oxide is crucial to the widening of blood vessels (vasodilation) that improves blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues.

Previous research has linked endothelial dysfunction to cardiovascular disease.

In this new study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that endothelial dysfunction increases production of proteins that provide the raw material for the amyloid plaques seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

The findings are published in the Dec. 2 online edition of the journal Circulation Research.

"On the cardiovascular side, we've known for some time that preservation of healthy endothelium is critical to prevent major cardiovascular events. Now it seems this may have important implications for cognitive impairment," senior author Dr. Zvonimir S. Katusic, a professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology at the Mayo Clinic, said in an American Heart Association news release.

He said the study may help explain how exercise benefits cardiovascular and brain health. Previous research has shown that exercise can delay or prevent cognitive impairment.

"There is a lot of literature showing that every time you exercise, you stimulate the endothelium to produce more nitric oxide. What we have identified in this paper may help explain the reported (cognitive) benefit of exercise," Katusic said.

More information

For more about exercise and brain health, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Dec. 2, 2010

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