Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease with multiple etiologies. The most recent theory of the vascular etiology of MS, Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI), suggests that cerebral venous obstruction could lead to cerebral venous reflux, promoting local inflammatory processes. This review article offers strong evidence that the route of the observed narrowing of cerebral veins arises from autonomic nervous system dysfunction, particularly cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction. The dysfunction of this system has two major effects: 1) the reduction of mean arterial blood pressure, which has the potential to reduce the cerebral perfusion pressure and the transmural pressure, and 2) the failure of cerebral autoregulation to maintain constant cerebral blood flow in the face of fluctuations in cerebral perfusion pressure. Alterations in cerebral autoregulation could in turn raise the critical closure pressure, indicated to be the cerebral perfusion pressure at which the transmural pressure will be sub-sufficient to overcome the active tension imparted by the smooth muscle layer of the vessel. These two effects of autonomic nervous system dysfunction (reduction in arterial blood pressure and alterations in cerebral autoregulation), when combined with inflammation-induced high levels of nitric oxide in the brain, will lower transmural pressure sufficiently to the point where the threshold for critical closure pressure is reached, leading to venous closure. In addition, cerebral vessels fail to overcome the closure as a result of low central venous pressure, which is also regulated by autonomic nervous system function. Furthermore, through their neuroregulatory effects, infectious agents such as the Epstein-Barr virus and vitamin D(3) are able to alter the functions of the autonomic nervous system, influencing the rate of CCSVI occurrence. The absence of CCSVI specificity for MS, observed in recent clinical studies, may stem from a high prevalence of autonomic nervous system dysfunction in control groups which were recruited to these studies. Future studies should investigate CCSVI in relation to cardiovascular autonomic function.
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