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The societal burden of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is staggering, with current estimates suggesting that 50 million people world-wide have AD. Identification of new therapeutic targets is a critical barrier to the development of disease-modifying therapies. A large body of data implicates vascular pathology and cardiovascular risk factors in the development of AD, indicating that there are likely shared pathological mediators. Inflammation plays a role in both cardiovascular disease and AD, and recent evidence has implicated elements of the coagulation system in the regulation of inflammation. In particular, the multifunctional serine protease thrombin has been found to act as a mediator of vascular dysfunction and inflammation in both the periphery and the central nervous system. In the periphery, thrombin contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis and diabetes, by inducing endothelial dysfunction and related inflammation. In the brain, thrombin has been found to act on endothelial cells of the blood brain barrier, microglia, astrocytes, and neurons in a manner that promotes vascular dysfunction, inflammation, and neurodegeneration. Thrombin is elevated in the AD brain, and thrombin signaling has been linked to both tau and amyloid beta, pathological hallmarks of the disease. In AD mouse models, inhibiting thrombin preserves cognition and endothelial function and reduces neuroinflammation. Evidence linking atrial fibrillation with AD and dementia indicates that anticoagulant therapy may reduce the risk of dementia, with targeting thrombin shown to be particularly effective. It is time for “outside-the-box” thinking about how vascular risk factors, such as atherosclerosis and diabetes, as well as the coagulation and inflammatory pathways interact to promote increased AD risk. In this review, we present evidence that thrombin is a convergence point for AD risk factors and as such that thrombin-based therapeutics could target multiple points of AD pathology, including neurodegeneration, vascular activation, and neuroinflammation. The urgent need for disease-modifying drugs in AD demands new thinking about disease pathogenesis and an exploration of novel drug targets, we propose that thrombin inhibition is an innovative tactic in the therapeutic battle against this devastating disease.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.