Evidence of Neurodegeneration in Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Relationship Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cognitive Dysfunction in the Elderly

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Abstract

The incidence of dementia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) increases with age. Late-onset Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an irreversible neurodegenerative disease of the elderly characterized by amyloid β (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The disease involves widespread synaptic loss in the neocortex and the hippocampus. Rodent and clinical studies suggest that OSA impairs the structural integrity of several brain regions, including the medial temporal lobe. Indeed, hypoxia, hypertension, hypoperfusion, endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress noted in OSA patients also occur in AD patients. This Review highlights pathological commonality, showing that OSA upregulates Aβ, tau hyperphosphorylation, and synaptic dysfunction. Indeed, OSA and hypertension trigger hypoperfusion and hypometabolism of brain regions, including cortex and hippocampus. Several studies show that hypertension-driven brain damage and pathogenic mechanisms lead to an Aβ increase. The pathophysiological mechanism by which OSA enhances hypertension may be linked to sympathoexcitation, oxidative stress, and endothelial dysfunction. Strong pathophysiological similarities that exist between OSA and AD are underscored here. For example, the hippocampus is negatively impacted in both OSA and AD. OSA promotes hippocampal atrophy, which is associated with memory impairment. Cognitive impairment, even in the absence of manifest dementia, is an important independent predictor of mortality. However, several pathophysiological mechanisms in OSA are reversible with appropriate therapy. OSA, therefore, is a modifiable risk factor of cognitive dysfunction, and treating OSA prior to mild cognitive impairment may be an effective prevention strategy to reduce risk for cognitive decline and AD in middle-aged persons and the elderly. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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