Flow-Mediated Dilation and Neurocognition: Systematic Review and Future Directions

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Previous literature indicates that flow-mediated dilation (FMD) is associated with impaired cognition among patients with stroke. The relationship between FMD and cognition in individuals without cerebrovascular disease has yet to be systematically reviewed.


The literature was searched using MEDLINE. Exclusion criteria were as follows: focus on neurological disease (e.g., stroke), animal studies, no quantitative measure of endothelial function or cognition, newborn studies, articles with no original data, and articles that are irrelevant to the topic of interest. Neurocognitive tests were categorized in the following domains: executive function, memory (general, working, episodic/semantic, verbal, visual), global cognitive function, information processing speed, language, psychomotor speed, and visual-spatial ability.


The search yielded 700 articles, of which 10 articles, consisting of 2791 participants, met the criteria for inclusion. Most studies conclude that impaired FMD is associated with poorer neuropsychological functioning, particularly in executive functioning (effect sizes: r = 0.07–0.58) and working memory tasks (effect sizes: r = 0.19–0.39). No association was found between other subdomains of memory and FMD. Visual spatial tasks, information processing speed, language tasks, and global cognition were not associated with FMD overall; however fewer studies examined these domains.


Even in the absence of cerebrovascular disease, there are links between cognition, particularly executive tasks, and vascular function. Public health implications include the potential value of examining FMD as a predictor of cognitive decline, as well as the potential value of improving cognition through pharmacological and behavioral interventions that improve vascular function. Future studies incorporating neuroimaging measures of cerebral blood flow are warranted.

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