Cerebrovascular dysfunction in cerebral small vessel disease
Blair, Gordon William
INTRODUCTION: Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is the cause of a quarter of all ischaemic strokes and is postulated to have a role in up to half of all dementias. SVD pathophysiology remains unclear but cerebrovascular dysfunction may be important. If confirmed many licensed medications have mechanisms of action targeting vascular function, potentially enabling new treatments via drug repurposing. Knowledge is limited however, as most studies assessing cerebrovascular dysfunction are small, single centre, single imaging modality studies due to the complexities in measuring cerebrovascular dysfunctions in humans. This thesis describes the development and application of imaging techniques measuring several cerebrovascular dysfunctions to investigate SVD pathophysiology and trial medications that may improve small blood vessel function in SVD. METHODS: Participants with minor ischaemic strokes were recruited to a series of studies utilising advanced MRI techniques to measure cerebrovascular dysfunction. Specifically MRI scans measured the ability of different tissues in the brain to change blood flow in response to breathing carbon dioxide (cerebrovascular reactivity; CVR) and the flow and pulsatility through the cerebral arteries, venous sinuses and CSF spaces. A single centre observational study optimised and established feasibility of the techniques and tested associations of cerebrovascular dysfunctions with clinical and imaging phenotypes. Then a randomised pilot clinical trial tested two medications’ (cilostazol and isosorbide mononitrate) ability to improve CVR and pulsatility over a period of eight weeks. The techniques were then expanded to include imaging of blood brain barrier permeability and utilised in multi-centre studies investigating cerebrovascular dysfunction in both sporadic and monogenetic SVDs. RESULTS: Imaging protocols were feasible, consistently being completed with usable data in over 85% of participants. After correcting for the effects of age, sex and systolic blood pressure, lower CVR was associated with higher white matter hyperintensity volume, Fazekas score and perivascular space counts. Lower CVR was associated with higher pulsatility of blood flow in the superior sagittal sinus and lower CSF flow stroke volume at the foramen magnum. Cilostazol and isosorbide mononitrate increased CVR in white matter. The CVR, intra-cranial flow and pulsatility techniques, alongside blood brain barrier permeability and microstructural integrity imaging were successfully employed in a multi-centre observational study. A clinical trial assessing the effects of drugs targeting blood pressure variability is nearing completion. DISCUSSION: Cerebrovascular dysfunction in SVD has been confirmed and may play a more direct role in disease pathogenesis than previously established risk factors. Advanced imaging measures assessing cerebrovascular dysfunction are feasible in multi-centre studies and trials. Identifying drugs that improve cerebrovascular dysfunction using these techniques may be useful in selecting candidates for definitive clinical trials which require large sample sizes and long follow up periods to show improvement against outcomes of stroke and dementia incidence and cognitive function.