Johns Hopkins Medical Center

JHU Site ImageDevelopment of MRI microvascular biomarkers in cognitive impairment and dementia


Small vessel cerebrovascular disease is a major risk factor in cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. However, the mechanism and process by which this takes place is not fully understood. There is also a need for objective markers that could evaluate whether a treatment can improved small vessel function of the brain. The goal of the present project is to define MRI image features that can be used to diagnose small vessel disease and also predict treatment response, with a particular focus on a new technique that our laboratory has developed over the past few years. This technique can measure the blood vessel’s dilation ability. Conventional MRI scan can only identify late features of small vessel damage, such as loss of brain tissue and structural damage to the brain. In this project, we will aim to identify earlier signs of vessel-related brain insults, at a stage when the damage may still be reversible. Specifically, we will focus on a marker that informs the health of the fundamental unit of blood supply regulation in the brain, referred to as the neurovascular unit. The neurovascular unit is responsible for distributing and regulating blood supply across different parts of the brain by a function called cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR). Our previously studies on CVR have revealed that CVR is highly sensitive to age and that it diminishes more rapidly in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. There is also evidence that diminishment in CVR can result in poor performance such as slower processing speed. Therefore, the present project will emphasize the development of CVR MRI as a small vessel imaging biomarker, with additional consideration of other possible information of the brain such as whether there are hemorrhages in the brain and whether the brain blood supply is sufficient. These image features can potentially be used for diagnosis, monitoring of disease progression, and prediction of treatment response in vascular related cognitive impairment and dementia. In this project, we will also work with the Coordinating Center and other projects in the consortium to evaluate other promising biomarker candidates in a multi-site setting.



Investigators Information

PI: Hanzhang Lu, Ph.D.
Professor of Radiology and Radiological Science
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine


MPI: Marilyn S. Albert, Ph.D.
Professor of Neurology
Director of Cognitive Neuroscience
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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