$413,729 NIH grant helps to study the link between stroke and Alzheimer’s disease

Why does stroke increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias?

January 4, 2024

Claudia Fallini is at work on a new $413,729 NIH grant to investigate the link between stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. She hopes her research will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as to improved stroke outcomes.

Dr. Fallini and students
Assistant Professor Claudia Fallini (center) is pictured with graduate students Michelle Gregoire and Emily Potts

Ischemic stroke, caused by lack of blood supply to the brain, kills and damages brain cells, often triggering harmful neuroinflammation or other pathological changes that have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, it is unclear how and why stroke can trigger these changes, and exactly how such changes increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

“There is a knowledge gap around which cellular pathways cause or contribute to dementia after a stroke,” says Fallini. “It is important to bridge this gap in order to understand how stroke affects your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and finding potential ways to mitigate that risk.”

One potential pathway of interest includes the actin cytoskeleton, which plays a critical role in various cellular functions and has long been a focus of Fallini’s research. “Ischemic stroke has been shown to induce drastic changes in the actin cytoskeleton,” says Fallini. “One of our questions is to look at how some of the changes we see in this pathway after a stroke could make surviving brain cells more vulnerable to age-related stressors or other factors linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

She hopes the project will be a step toward potential new therapies. “We hope that our work will provide new pieces of the puzzle toward a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that lead to cognitive decline and dementia,” Fallini says. “If we can identify what’s happening in the brain after a stroke that causes or contributes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, we have a better chance to intervene.”