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2022 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG)

Multimodal Imaging of Small Vessel Disease in Genetic AD

How can changes to blood vessels in the brain contribute to brain changes in Alzheimer’s?

Alexandre Bejanin, Ph.D.
Institut de Recerca - Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau
Barcelona, Spain


As individuals age, blood vessels can become damaged. This is a problem that impacts blood flow in the brain and other parts of the body. Studies show that vascular (blood vessel) damage may also impact an individual’s risk for many brain diseases. One type of blood vessel disorder, called cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), impacts small blood vessels within the brain. Current studies suggest that small vessel disease may increase an individual's risk of Alzheimer’s. This finding is bolstered in part by the fact that individuals with Down syndrome have an increased risk for both Alzheimer’s and small vessel disease. However, the exact link between small vessel disease and Alzheimer’s remains unclear.

Research Plan

To better clarify this relationship, Dr. Alexandre Bejanin and colleagues will study the link between Alzheimer’s and small vessel disease in individuals with Down syndrome. They will recruit individuals with Down syndrome who have varying degrees of cognitive (brain function) impairment, as well as age-matched individuals without Down syndrome and no cognitive impairment. 

The researchers will collect brain scans and samples of cerebrospinal fluid (or CSF, the biological fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) from all individuals. They will measure and compare levels of small blood vessel damage in the two groups from both the brain scans and CSF. Additionally, they will compare how the amount of small vessel disease is linked to Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain and CSF, such as brain cell damage and the accumulation of tau and beta-amyloid proteins (two hallmark brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s). In addition, using results from cognitive tests administered over the study period, they will examine how small vessel disease damage may impact cognitive decline over time, as well as the risk of Alzheimer’s.     


This project could reveal many links between small vessel disease and Alzheimer’s related brain changes, as well as providing further understanding of the intersection of Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s related brain changes.

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