Stroke and dementia are major causes of disability in most countries. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that statins (3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors) are likely to reduce the risk for developing these formidable disorders. The favorable outcomes in statin users may be attributable to not only cholesterol-dependent actions, but also various cholesterol-independent actions called "pleiotropic effects." Several clinical trials have suggested that statins decrease the incidence of stroke, especially ischemic stroke. Statins improve endothelial function, inhibit platelet activation, reduce blood coagulability, and suppress inflammatory reactions, all of which may contribute to the beneficial effects of the therapy. Statins also reduce the risk of vasospasm caused by subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). In addition, statins might inhibit the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD), the dominant type of dementia in most industrialized countries, upstream of the amyloid cascade. In vitro studies have shown that statins modulate the metabolism of the beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) and reduce the extracellular level of its proteolytic product, amyloid-beta (Abeta). The aggregated Abeta is cytotoxic, leading to formation of neurofibrillary tangles and neuronal loss in the brain. Inflammatory processes are active in AD and may contribute significantly to AD pathology. We review the experimental background regarding the pleiotropic effects of statins and summarize clinical trials that examined the preventative effects of statin therapy on stroke and dementia. We include current trials in which statin therapy is initiated within 24 hr of onset of acute ischemic stroke.
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