An intricate web of blood vessels in the mammalian brain provides essential oxygen and nutrients to power the energy demands of the brain. The structure of the brain?s microvasculature provides the extraordinary surface needed for a high level of energy exchange and clearance of metabolic wastes. Small vessel pathologies are involved in cognitive decline associated with aging and many brain disorders. Mounting evidence supports the idea that neuronal activity dynamically regulates diameter of small vessels to maintain energy homeostasis. For example, when mice use their whiskers to sense the external environment, neural activity in corresponding somatosensory areas increases and small vessels in the area dilate to increase blood perfusion. Cortical interneurons, especially neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) expressing neurons, are the major cell type to mediate such neurovascular coupling. Interestingly, emerging evidence suggests that 3D distribution and function of small vessels, and their interaction with vasomotor neurons are heterogeneous in different brain regions. Moreover, some brain regions are more susceptible than others to age related degeneration, which can be linked to many neurological conditions with brain region specific symptoms such as Alzheimer's disease. To understand the underlying neurovascular mechanisms affected in health and pathological conditions, we propose to create a precise 3D map of micro vessels and cell types controlling vessel motility in the entire mammalian brain using the mouse as a model. Furthermore, we aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of neurovascular changes during aging. Towards this goal, we have created a synergistic collaborative team with complementary skill sets to establish high-resolution whole mouse brain anatomical maps of micro vessels and nNOS interneurons subtypes (Dr. Kim), to establish a web-visualization to widely disseminate these maps (Dr. Cheng), and to study functional relationships involved in the regulation of vasomotility from awake animals (Dr. Drew). The proposed work will establish reference maps that are needed as a foundation for the further study of neurovascular architectures supporting normal cognitive function and their changes in various neuropathologies.

Public Health Relevance

Small vessels and their dynamic relationship with neurons play essential roles in supporting normal brain functions. Here, we propose to apply innovative approaches to map complete wiring diagrams of small vessels and vasomotor neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) expressing neurons in young and old mouse brains. Furthermore, we will utilize novel tools to investigate functional relationships between nNOS neurons and vasomotility in awake mice. The results will establish fundamental reference maps of neurovascular systems and their physiological regulation.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Bosetti, Francesca
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Pennsylvania State University
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code