​A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports that a medicine used to treat high blood pressure could also be used to treat individuals with vascular dementia. Researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that the blood pressure drug amlodipine could help treat vascular dementia or stop it early on.

Small vessel diseases of the brain are considered the most common causes of memory loss, implicated in more than 40 percent of dementia cases, according to the study. The main risk factor for the development of the diseases is hypertension, and a number of clinical studies indicate that elevated blood pressure in mid-life is associated with cognitive decline in late-life. However, the cellular mechanisms linking hypertension to memory disturbance are not yet definitively established, the researchers said.

In the study, mice with hypertension were used to test the effects of two types of medicine—amlodipine, a calcium channel blocker that improves blood flow and dilates blood vessels, and losartan, which keeps blood vessels from narrowing, lowers blood pressure, and improves blood flow.

The test showed that chronic hypertension progressively disrupts on-demand delivery of blood to metabolically active areas of the brain (functional hyperemia) through diminished activity of the capillary endothelial cell inward-rectifier potassium channel called Kir2.1. Despite similar efficacy in reducing blood pressure, amlodipine, a voltage-dependent calcium-channel blocker, prevented hypertension-related damage to functional hyperemia, whereas losartan, an angiotensin II type 1 receptor blocker, did not.

“From a clinical perspective, these data suggest the need for new drug trials that exploit the greater efficacy of amlodipine relative to losartan in preventing vascular dementia in hypertensive patients,” the researchers said.

Further, the data collected suggest Kir2.1 as a possible therapeutic target in vascular dementia and indicate treatments may help to protect against late-life cognitive decline in patients with hypertension.

The study is supported by a number of organizations, including the American Heart Association, the Totman Medical Research Trust, and the British Heart Foundation.