Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is the leading cause of vascular dementia, causes a quarter of strokes, and worsens stroke outcomes. The disease is characterised by patchy cerebral small vessel and white matter pathology, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. This microvascular and tissue damage has been classically considered secondary to extrinsic factors, such as hypertension, but this fails to explain the patchy nature of the disease, the link to endothelial cell (EC) dysfunction even when hypertension is absent, and the increasing evidence of high heritability to SVD-related brain damage. We have previously shown the link between deletion of the phospholipase flippase Atp11b and EC dysfunction in an inbred hypertensive rat model with SVD-like pathology and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in ATP11B associated with human sporadic SVD. Here, we generated a novel normotensive transgenic rat model, where Atp11b is deleted, and show pathological, imaging and behavioural changes typical of those in human SVD, but that occur without hypertension. Atp11bKO rat brain and retinal small vessels show ECs with molecular and morphological changes of dysfunction, with myelin disruption in a patchy pattern around some but not all brain small vessels, similar to the human brain. We show that ATP11B/ATP11B is heterogeneously expressed in ECs in normal rat and human brain even in the same transverse section of the same blood vessel, suggesting variable effects of the loss of ATP11B on each vessel and an explanation for the patchy nature of the disease. This work highlights a link between inherent EC dysfunction and vulnerability to SVD white matter damage with a marked heterogeneity of ECs in vivo which modulates this response, occurring even in the absence of hypertension. These findings refocus our strategies for therapeutics away from antihypertensive (and vascular risk factor) control alone and towards ECs in the effort to provide alternative targets to prevent a major cause of stroke and dementia.
- Adenosine Triphosphatases/metabolism
- Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases/pathology
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging
- Membrane Transport Proteins/metabolism
- White Matter/pathology