The concept of the neurovascular unit (NVU), formalized at the 2001 Stroke Progress Review Group meeting of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, emphasizes the intimate relationship between the brain and its vessels. Since then, the NVU has attracted the interest of the neuroscience community, resulting in considerable advances in the field. Here the current state of knowledge of the NVU will be assessed, focusing on one of its most vital roles: the coupling between neural activity and blood flow. The evidence supports a conceptual shift in the mechanisms of neurovascular coupling, from a unidimensional process involving neuronal-astrocytic signaling to local blood vessels to a multidimensional one in which mediators released from multiple cells engage distinct signaling pathways and effector systems across the entire cerebrovascular network in a highly orchestrated manner. The recently appreciated NVU dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases, although still poorly understood, supports emerging concepts that maintaining neurovascular health promotes brain health.
The link between neural activity and cerebral perfusion, a key function of the neurovascular unit, has captivated the neuroscience community in recent years. Here Iadecola provides a comprehensive appraisal of the state of knowledge on neurovascular function in health and in neurodegenerative disease.