Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in the elderly. Although traditionally considered a disease of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, structural and functional changes in the microvessels may contribute directly to the pathogenesis of the disease. Since vascular dysfunction often precedes cognitive impairment, understanding the role of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in AD may be key to rational treatment of the disease. We propose that water regulation, a critical function of the BBB, is disturbed in AD and results in abnormal permeability and rates of water exchange across the vessel walls. In this paper, we describe some of the pathological events that may disturb microvascular water exchange in AD and examine the potential of a relatively new imaging technique, dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI, to quantify water exchange on a cellular level and thus serve as a probe of BBB integrity in AD
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