It remains unclear whether autophagy affects hippocampal neuronal injury in vascular dementia. In the present study, we investigated the effects of autophagy blockade on hippocampal neuronal injury in a rat model of vascular dementia. In model rats, hippocampal CA1 neurons were severely damaged, and expression of the autophagy-related proteins beclin-1, cathepsin B and microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 was elevated compared with that in sham-operated animals. These responses were suppressed in animals that received a single intraperitoneal injection of wortmannin, an autophagy inhibitor, prior to model establishment. The present results confirm that autophagy and autophagy-related proteins are involved in the pathological changes of vascular dementia, and that inhibition of autophagy has neuroprotective effects.