Longitudinal Multimodal fMRI to Investigate Neurovascular Changes in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats

Andrew Crofts, Melissa Trotman-Lucas, Justyna Janus, Michael Kelly, Claire L Gibson
Journal of Neuroimaging: Official Journal of the American Society of Neuroimaging 2020 July 10
Hypertension is an important risk factor for age-related cognitive decline and neuronal pathologies. Studies have shown a correlation between hypertension, disruption in neurovascular coupling and cerebral autoregulation, and cognitive decline. However, the mechanisms behind this are unclear. To further understand this, it is advantageous to study neurovascular coupling as hypertension progresses in a rodent model. Here, we use a longitudinal functional MRI (fMRI) protocol to assess the impact of hypertension on neurovascular coupling in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs). Eight female SHRs were studied at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, as hypertension progressed. Under an IV infusion of propofol, animals underwent fMRI, functional MR spectroscopy, and cerebral blood flow (CBF) quantification to study changes in neurovascular coupling over time. Blood pressure significantly increased at 4 and 6 months (P < .0001). CBF significantly increased at 4 months old (P < .05), in the acute stage of hypertension. The size of the active region decreased significantly at 6 months old (P < .05). Change in glutamate signal during activation, and N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) signal, remained constant. This study shows that, while cerebral autoregulation is impaired in acute hypertension, the blood oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) response remains unaltered until later stages. At this stage, the consistent NAA and glutamate signals show that neuronal death has not occurred, and that neuronal activity is not affected at this stage. This suggests that neuronal activity and viability is not lost until much later, and changes observed here in BOLD activity are due to vascular effects.

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