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Alzheimer`s & Dementia
Year: 2013  |  Volume: 9  |  Issue: 1  |  Page No.: 76 - 92

Vascular disease and dementias: Paradigm shifts to drive research in new directions

Mitchel A. Kling, John Q. Trojanowski, David A. Wolk, Virginia M.Y. Lee and Steven E. Arnold    

Abstract: Vascular disease was once considered the principal cause of aging-related dementia. More recently, however, research emphasis has shifted to studies of progressive neurodegenerative disease processes, such as those giving rise to neuritic plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and Lewy bodies. Although these studies have led to critical insights and potential therapeutic strategies, interest in the role of systemic and cerebrovascular disease mechanisms waned and has received relatively less attention and research support. Recent studies suggest that vascular disease mechanisms play an important role in the risk for aging-related cognitive decline and disorders. Vascular disease frequently coexists with cognitive decline in aging individuals, shares many risk factors with dementias considered to be of the ”Alzheimer type,“ and is observed more frequently than expected in postmortem material from individuals manifesting ”specific“ disease stigmata, such as abundant plaques and tangles. Considerable difficulties have emerged in attempting to classify dementias as being related to vascular versus neurodegenerative causes, and several systems of criteria have been used. Despite multiple attempts, a lack of consensus remains regarding the optimal means of incorporating vascular disease into clinical diagnostic, neurocognitive, or neuropathologic classification schemes for dementias. We propose here an integrative, rather than a strictly taxonomic, approach to the study and elucidation of how vascular disease mechanisms contribute to the development of dementias. We argue that, instead of discriminating between, for example, ”Alzheimer's disease,“ ”vascular dementia,“ and other diseases, there is a greater need to focus clinical and research efforts on elucidating specific pathophysiologic mechanisms that contribute to dementia phenotypes and neuropathologic outcomes. We outline a multitiered strategy, beginning with clinical and public health interventions that can be implemented immediately, enhancements to ongoing longitudinal studies to increase their informative value, and new initiatives to capitalize on recent advances in systems biology and network medicine. This strategy will require funding from multiple public and private sources to support collaborative and interdisciplinary research efforts to take full advantage of these opportunities and realize their societal benefits.

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