Chronic vascular risk factors (cholesterol, homocysteine, ethanol) impair spatial memory, decline cholinergic neurons and induce blood-brain barrier leakage in rats in vivo.

Epidemiological studies show that vascular risk factors (e.g. atherosclerosis, diabetes, homocysteine, hypertension or cholesterol) may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Animal models may help to discover the role of vascular risk factors on cognition. In the present project we treated male Sprague Dawley rats with a diet containing homocysteine (hyperhomocysteinemia) or cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) for 5months or exposed the rats to ethanol (20% in drinking water) or a combination of cholesterol+ethanol (mix) for 12months. Our experiments show that all 3 treatments (homocysteine, cholesterol, ethanol) declined spatial memory in the 8-arm radial maze, reduced the number of cholinergic neurons and induced blood-brain barrier leakage in the cortex. Rats treated with cholesterol also displayed markedly enhanced inflammation in the cortex. Levels of amyloid precursor protein, beta-amyloid((1-42)), as well as tau and phospho-tau 181 were significantly enhanced in the cortex of cholesterol-fed rats. A combination of ethanol and cholesterol did not further potentiate the effects on spatial memory, cholinergic neurons and blood-brain barrier leakage.The data suggest that chronic mild vascular risk factors over months induce small
lesions of the brain capillaries in the cortex, which may contribute to the development of vascular dementia or also Alzheimer's disease.
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