We have previously reported an association between severe cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) and cerebrovascular lesions in Alzheimer disease (AD), which is particularly strong for microinfarcts, hemorrhages, and multiple lesion types. Cerebral amyloid angiopathy has also been associated with the apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) genotype, which is in turn associated with premature coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.
To test whether severe CAA would be more strongly associated with cerebrovascular lesions than would APOE4 genotype.
We reviewed 306 cases of autopsy-confirmed AD (from the University of California, San Diego, brain autopsy series) to assess whether APOE genotype and other clinical risk factors were predictive of vascular lesions (VLs) in AD. Cerebral amyloid angiopathy severity was assessed using a semiquantitative scale in 4 brain regions (ie, hippocampus, midfrontal cortex, inferior parietal cortex, and superior temporal cortex) and an average score was computed for each case.
We found that severe CAA was associated with an increased frequency of VLs (33% of the cases of severe CAA had VLs vs 19% of the cases of mild or absent CAA; P=.02). While the APOE4/4 genotype was associated with an increased severity of CAA, there was no significant relationship between APOE genotype and frequency of VLs. Logistic regression models showed that severe CAA, advanced age, atherosclerosis, and Hachinski Ischemia Scale score of 7 or more were all significantly associated with VLs, but the number of APOE4 alleles, history of hypertension, coronary artery disease, sex, and serum cholesterol levels had nonsignificant effects. Within strata of APOE genotype, the presence of severe CAA was associated with increased frequency of VLs (eg, within APOE4/4 homozygotes, VLs were present within 47% of the cases of severe CAA vs 9.5% of the cases of mild or absent CAA; P=.01).
Severe CAA confers a greater risk of VLs in AD, even within strata of APOE genotype. Therefore, the association between severe CAA and VLs in AD is not a spurious one owing to APOE4. Overall, our cases of AD with APOE4 do not seem to be a more "vasculopathic" subtype of AD. The mechanisms by which CAA produces VLs of various types need to be further elucidated, as these are probably important in producing the common entity of "mixed" AD/vascular dementia. Arch Neurol. 2000.