Purpose of review: This article reviews vascular risk factors with specific emphasis on lipid abnormalities reported to be associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Recent findings: The current paradigm of MS, supported only partially by MS lesion histopathology and its animal model (experimental allergic encephalomyelitis) considers MS to be a predominantly autoimmune disease. Until recently, most of the known risk factors for MS were interpreted in the context of the autoimmune theory, which still fails to explain why genetically close populations exposed to similar pathogens and/or environmental risk factors have different incidences of MS. Therapies which partially modulate the inflammatory arm of MS pathogenesis, fail to achieve similar benefits in later disease stages, when less inflammatory lesions and more neurodegeneration are present. Several studies have reported an increased cardiovascular morbidity in MS patients and that vascular comorbidity at any time during the disease course also increased the risk of progressive disability. A condition named chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency provided a different perspective, on the possible association of MS with the abnormalities of the venous system. Our recent findings revealed increased prevalence of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency associated with MS disease progression as well as with other neurologic disorders. On the other hand, recently emerging evidence indicates that there is an association between lipoproteins and cholesterol metabolism and MS disease progression. Expanded disability status scale worsening was associated with higher baseline low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol, and higher serum high-density lipoprotein levels were associated with lower contrast-enhancing T1-weigthed lesion volume. It is thought that apolipoprotein A-1 and paraoxonase anti-oxidant enzyme are associated with high-density lipoprotein and contribute to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A significant inter-dependence was also recently demonstrated between vitamin D, one of the best known environmental risk factors for MS and MS disease progression and the serum lipid profile. Future work in this direction is required in order to better elucidate the role of lipid metabolism and vascular pathology in pathogenesis of MS.