Aging Cell: mTOR drives cerebrovascular, synaptic, and cognitive dysfunction in normative aging
Cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline are highly prevalent in aging, but the mechanisms underlying these impairments are unclear. Cerebral blood flow decreases with aging and is one of the earliest events in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We have previously shown that the mechanistic/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) drives disease progression in mouse models of AD and in models of cognitive impairment associated with atherosclerosis, closely recapitulating vascular cognitive impairment. In the present studies, we sought to determine whether mTOR plays a role in cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline during normative aging in rats. Using behavioral tools and MRI‐based functional imaging, together with biochemical and immunohistochemical approaches, we demonstrate that chronic mTOR attenuation with rapamycin ameliorates deficits in learning and memory, prevents neurovascular uncoupling, and restores cerebral perfusion in aged rats. Additionally, morphometric and biochemical analyses of hippocampus and cortex revealed that mTOR drives age‐related declines in synaptic and vascular density during aging. These data indicate that in addition to mediating AD‐like cognitive and cerebrovascular deficits in models of AD and atherosclerosis, mTOR drives cerebrovascular, neuronal, and cognitive deficits associated with normative aging. Thus, inhibitors of mTOR may have the potential to treat age‐related cerebrovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline. Since treatment of age‐related cerebrovascular dysfunction in older adults is expected to prevent further deterioration of cerebral perfusion, recently identified as a biomarker for the very early (preclinical) stages of AD, mTOR attenuation may potentially block the initiation and progression of AD.