Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are the key moderators of cerebrovascular dynamics in response to the brain's oxygen and nutrient demands. Crucially, VSMCs may provide a sensitive biomarker for neurodegenerative pathologies where vasculature is compromised. An increasing body of research suggests that VSMCs have remarkable plasticity and their pathophysiology may play a key role in the complex process of neurodegeneration. Furthermore, extrinsic risk factors, including environmental conditions and traumatic events can impact vascular function through changes in VSMC morphology. VSMC dysfunction can be characterised at the molecular level both preclinically, and clinically ex vivo. However the identification of VSMC dysfunction in living individuals is important to understand changes in vascular function at the onset and progression of neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. A promising technique to identify changes in the state of cerebral smooth muscle is cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR) which reflects the intrinsic dynamic response of blood vessels in the brain to vasoactive stimuli in order to modulate regional cerebral blood flow (CBF). In this work, we review the role of VSMCs in the most common neurodegenerative disorders and identify physiological systems that may contribute to VSMC dysfunction. The evidence collected here identifies VSMC dysfunction as a strong candidate for novel therapeutics to combat the development and progression of neurodegeneration, and highlights the need for more research on the role of VSMCs and cerebrovascular dynamics in healthy and diseased states.
Alzheimer’s disease, MRI, cerebral blood flow, cerebrovascular reactivity, dementia, neurodegeneration, vascular smooth muscle cells