Clinical and experimental studies have shown a clear link between diabetes, vascular dysfunction and cognitive impairment. However, the molecular underpinnings of this association remain unclear. Since vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling is important for maintaining vascular integrity and function, we hypothesized that vascular and cognitive impairment in the diabetic brain could be related to a deficiency in VEGF signaling. Here we show that chronic hyperglycemia (~. 8. weeks) in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes leads to a selective reduction in the expression of VEGF and its cognate receptor (VEGF-R2) in the hippocampus. Correlating with this, diabetic mice showed selective deficits in spatial memory in the Morris water maze, increased vessel area, width and permeability in the dentate gyrus/CA1 region of the hippocampus and reduced spine densities in CA1 neurons. Chronic low dose infusion of VEGF in diabetic mice was sufficient to restore VEGF signaling, protect them from memory deficits, as well as vascular and synaptic abnormalities in the hippocampus. These findings suggest that a hippocampal specific reduction in VEGF signaling and resultant vascular/neuronal defects may underlie early manifestations of cognitive impairment commonly associated with diabetes. Furthermore, restoring VEGF signaling may be a useful strategy for preserving hippocampal-related brain circuitry in degenerative vascular diseases.
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