Human Cerebral Blood Flow Regulation: Sex, Mechanism, and Stress Differences

The PI of this project is:

This project is funded by: NIH

The term of this project is: December 2020 to June 2025

The number of subjects scanned during this project is: 96

Cerebrovascular disease is the third leading killer in the U.S. and contributes to decreased quality of life and increased long-term care spending. The risk of cerebrovascular disease is inversely associated with resting cerebral blood flow (CBF). Men exhibit a lower resting CBF and have twice the risk of cerebrovascular disease when compared to premenopausal women. The ability of cerebral vessels to respond to challenges is also inversely related to disease risk and may be useful in identifying at-risk patients pre-clinically. However, these studies are often confounded by aging and/or comorbidities, and the associations provide little insight into physiologic mechanisms responsible for sexually dimorphic cerebrovascular disease risk. Conversely, animal studies use supraphysiologic levels of hormone treatment in primarily young animals, which limits the translational relevance of animal CBF mechanisms. While there is general agreement that estrogen is protective in healthy adults, the basic impact of sex, and physiologic fluctuations in sex hormones, on mechanisms of CBF control remains unclear. The overall goal of this research program is to investigate the mechanisms which actively control cerebral blood flow (CBF) in humans, particularly how men and women differ in control mechanisms on a regional basis throughout the brain circulation; regional differences may help explain some of the pathophysiology of non-uniform brain diseases like stroke or Alzheimer’s Disease. We propose to study CBF control mechanisms in healthy younger (18-40 yrs) adult men and women. The overall hypothesis is that female sex and sex hormones contribute to larger stress-induced increases in CBF, due to greater prostanoid (COX) and nitric oxide (NOS) dilation. A key technological innovation of this proposal derives from multi-mode, high-resolution, flow sensitive MRI to quantify CBF at macrovascular and microvascular levels, at rest, and in response to environmental challenges (stress test for the brain). Additionally, the research design allows us to quantify sex differences in two vascular control mechanisms across all brain regions. Our preliminary data demonstrate: hypoxic cerebral vasodilation is 60-100% higher in women compared to men, COX inhibition reduces dilation in women but not men, NOS inhibition reduces vasodilation more in women.