New Insights into Possible Role of NOS-NO-ADMA Pathway Dysfunction in the Development of Cognitive Decline and Dementia: Exploring the Vascular Features of Alzheimer’s Disease

Asija Zaciragic


In recent years significant overlap between cardio-metabolic risk factors and cognitive decline has been reported. Cardio-metabolic and vascular factors shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia include midlife diabetes and hypertension, cerebrovascular lesions, diminished vascular function, dyslipidemia, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Accordingly, it has been recently proposed that amyloid is not the cause of AD but merely a marker and a later consequence of upstream changes that lead to neuronal and synaptic losses. However, although the idea that features of vascular dysfunction and injury are present in cognitive decline and AD patients was suggested over 25 years ago, the role of cardio-metabolic and cerebrovascular mechanisms in the pathogenesis of AD is far from being fully elucidated. Based on newly proposed vascular hypothesis, there is an impaired structure and function of cerebral blood vessels and cells in patients with cognitive decline and AD which is mediated by vascular oxidative stress. Consistent with these observations, the importance of endothelial dysfunction in the development of AD has been highlighted. One of the most prominent features of endothelial dysfunction is decreased production and bioavailability of Nitric Oxide (NO). Based on versatile properties in physiological as well as in pathophysiological conditions NO is regarded as a key molecule for longevity and cardiovascular health. NO is produced by three different isoforms of the enzyme NO synthase (NOS), namely: endothelial (eNOS), neuronal (nNOS), and inducible (iNOS). Reduced NO bioavailability and altered vascular expression and activity of NOS enzymes are implicated as major molecular players in the process of vascular aging. In the process of aging, the mechanisms by which NOS enzymes promote vascular dysfunction are specific for each NOS isoform. Normal activity of eNOS is required for the balanced production/bioavailability of NO, which is the main prerequisite for optimal vascular function. Conversely, excessive amount of NO produced by iNOS contributes to vascular dysfunction. Furthermore, although the possible role of nNOS-derived NO in aging-associated vascular dysfunction is far from being fully elucidated, experimental findings indicate that impaired perivascular NO release from nNOS increases vasoconstriction in aged arterioles. Oxidative stress and inhibitors of NO synthase are regarded as most potent initiators of disturbed production and bioavailability of NO. Important endogenous inhibitor of all three isoforms of NOS is asymmetrical dimethylarginine (ADMA). It has been recently proposed that ADMA may be a possible link between vascular disease and dementia. Based on this assumption ADMA might represent a unifying pathophysiological pathway linking the presence of vascular risk factors with the onset and progression of cognitive decline and dementia. These observations were made based on good evidence from literature that higher plasma ADMA concentrations favor atherosclerosis and independently predict adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular outcomes in several patient groups. However, possible role of ADMA in pathophysiology of cognitive decline and AD is still not fully understood. Prospective studies are warranted aiming at further clarification of ADMA involvement in development and progression of dementia. Moreover, use of ADMA in CSF and /or plasma as prospective biomarker of AD should be explored. According to newly introduced hypothesis disturbed NOS-NO-ADMA pathway is one of the most important attributes of cerebrovascular dysfunction that plays a pathogenic role in the development of cognitive decline and dementia. Experimental data from cell cultures and animal models have demonstrated that dysfunction of the NO-NOS- ADMA pathway results in cell death, blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption, and brain edema via different pathological mechanisms. However, exact underlining mechanisms through which disturbed NOS-NO-ADMA pathway contributes to cognitive decline and dementia remain to be elucidated. Clarification of these mechanisms may be helpful in the identification of new therapeutic targets for aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Future research should also explain whether endothelial dysfunction precede or follow neurological changes which characterize cognitive decline and dementia. Moreover, clinical and epidemiological studies have shown that healthy nutrition and physical exercise are important non-pharmacological, lifestyle-related interventions that could help in maintaining appropriate vascular tone, adequate cerebral blood flow and normal cognition during aging. It is reasonable to suggest that prevention of cardio-metabolic diseases via endorsement of healthy aging determinants such as control of blood pressure, lipids and glucose levels as well as maintenance of optimal body weight achieved by regular physical activity and nutrition with high anti-oxidant capacity might be effective strategy in the preservation of cognitive function.


Nitric Oxide (NO); Nitric Oxide Synthase (NOS); asymmetrical dimethylarginine (ADMA); NOS-NO-ADMA pathway dysfunction, cognitive decline; Dementia; Alzheimer’s disease

Full Text: PDF HTML


  • There are currently no refbacks.