BackgroundChronic cerebral hypoperfusion causes damage to the brain’s white matter underpinning vascular cognitive impairment. Inflammation and oxidative stress have been proposed as key pathophysiological mechanisms of which the transcription factor Nrf2 is a master regulator. We hypothesised that white matter pathology, microgliosis, blood-brain barrier breakdown and behavioural deficits induced by chronic hypoperfusion would be exacerbated in mice deficient in the transcription factor Nrf2.MethodsMice deficient in Nrf2 (male heterozygote or homozygous for Nrf2 knockout) or wild-type littermates on a C57Bl6/J background underwent bilateral carotid artery stenosis (BCAS) to induce chronic cerebral hypoperfusion or sham surgery and survived for a further 6 weeks. White matter pathology was assessed with MAG immunohistochemistry as a marker of altered axon-glial integrity; alterations to astrocytes and microglia/macrophages were assessed with GFAP and Iba1 immunohistochemistry, and blood-brain barrier breakdown was assessed with IgG immunohistochemistry. Behavioural alterations were assessed using 8-arm radial arm maze, and alterations to Nrf2-related and inflammatory-related genes were assessed with qRT-PCR.ResultsChronic cerebral hypoperfusion induced white matter pathology, elevated microglial/macrophage levels and blood-brain barrier breakdown in white matter tracts that were increased in Nrf2+/− mice and further exacerbated by the complete absence of Nrf2. Chronic hypoperfusion induced white matter astrogliosis and induced an impairment in behaviour assessed with radial arm maze; however, these measures were not affected by Nrf2 deficiency. Although Nrf2-related antioxidant gene expression was not altered by chronic cerebral hypoperfusion, there was evidence for elevated pro-inflammatory related gene expression following chronic hypoperfusion that was not affected by Nrf2 deficiency.ConclusionsThe results demonstrate that the absence of Nrf2 exacerbates white matter pathology and microgliosis following cerebral hypoperfusion but does not affect behavioural impairment.