Cognitive impairment is an increasingly recognized major cause of chronic disability and is commonly found in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Knowledge of the relationship between kidney dysfunction and impaired cognition may improve our understanding of other forms of cognitive dysfunction. Patients with CKD are at an increased risk (compared with the general population) of both dementia and its prodrome, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which are characterized by deficits in executive functions, memory and attention. Brain imaging in patients with CKD has revealed damage to white matter in the prefrontal cortex and, in animal models, in the subcortical monoaminergic and cholinergic systems, accompanied by widespread macrovascular and microvascular damage. Unfortunately, current interventions that target cardiovascular risk factors (such as anti-hypertensive drugs, anti-platelet agents and statins) seem to have little or no effect on CKD-associated MCI, suggesting that the accumulation of uraemic neurotoxins may be more important than disturbed haemodynamic factors or lipid metabolism in MCI pathogenesis. Experimental models show that the brain monoaminergic system is susceptible to uraemic neurotoxins and that this system is responsible for the altered sleep pattern commonly observed in patients with CKD. Neural progenitor cells and the glymphatic system, which are important in Alzheimer disease pathogenesis, may also be involved in CKD-associated MCI. More detailed study of CKD-associated MCI is needed to fully understand its clinical relevance, underlying pathophysiology, possible means of early diagnosis and prevention, and whether there may be novel approaches and potential therapies with wider application to this and other forms of cognitive decline.
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