Reversing pathology in a preclinical model of Alzheimer's disease by hacking cerebrovascular neoangiogenesis with advanced cancer therapeutics

Elsevier, EBioMedicine, Volume 71, September 2021
Singh C.S.B., Choi K.B., Munro L., Wang H.Y., Pfeifer C.G., Jefferies W.A.

Background: Cognitive decline leading to dementia, accompanied by the accumulation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) in neuritic plaques together with the appearance of neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) composed of hyperphosphorylated tau protein (tau), are previously noted hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (AD). We previously discovered hypervascularity in brain specimens from AD patients and consistent with this observation, we demonstrated that overexpression of Aβ drives cerebrovascular neoangiogenesis leading to hypervascularity and coincident tight-junction disruption and blood-brain barrier (BBB) leakiness in animal models of AD. We subsequently demonstrated that amyloid plaque burden and cerebrovascular pathogenesis subside when pro-angiogenic Aβ levels are reduced. Based on these data, we propose a paradigm of AD etiology where, as a compensatory response to impaired cerebral blood flow (CBF), Aβ triggers pathogenic cerebrovascular neoangiogenesis that underlies the conventional hallmarks of AD. Consequently, here we present evidence that repurposing anti-cancer drugs to modulate cerebrovascular neoangiogenesis, rather than directly targeting the amyloid cascade, may provide an effective treatment for AD and related vascular diseases of the brain. Methods: We explored whether the anti-cancer drug, Axitinib, a small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor that targets vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFR) can inhibit aberrant cerebrovascular neoangiogenic changes, reduce Aβ deposits and reverse cognitive decline in an animal model of AD. One month post-treatment with Axitinib, we employed a battery of tests to assess cognition and memory in aged Tg2576 AD mice and used molecular analysis to demonstrate reduction of amyloid plaques, BBB leakage, hypervascularity and associated disease pathology. Findings: Targeting the pro-angiogenic pathway in AD using the cancer drug, Axitinib, dramatically reduced cerebrovascular neoangiogenesis, restored BBB integrity, resolved tight-junction pathogenesis, diminishes Aβ depositions in plaques and effectively restores memory and cognitive performance in a preclinical mouse model of AD. Interpretation: Modulation of neoangiogenesis, in an analogous approach to those used to treat aberrant vascularization in cancer and also in the wet form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), provides an alternative therapeutic strategy for intervention in AD that warrants clinical investigation.