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Panminerva Medica 2017 March;59(1):76-89

DOI: 10.23736/S0031-0808.16.03248-1


language: English

Starling resistors, autoregulation of cerebral perfusion and the pathogenesis of idiopathic intracranial hypertension

Roberto DE SIMONE 1, Angelo RANIERI 1, 2, Vincenzo BONAVITA 2

1 Department of Neurosciences, Reproductive Sciences and Odontostomatology, Headache Centre, University Federico II of Naples, Naples, Italy; 2 Istituto di Diagnosi e Cura Hermitage Capodimonte, Naples, Italy


Two critical functions for the control of intracranial fluids dynamics are carried on the venous side of the perfusion circuit: the first is the avoidance of cortical veins collapse during the physiological increases of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure in which they are immersed. The second, is the generation of an abrupt venous pressure drop at the confluence of the cortical veins with the dural sinuses that is required to allow a CSF outflow rate balanced with its production. There is evidence that both of these effects are ensured by a Starling resistor mechanism (a fluid dynamic construct that governs the flow in collapsible tubes exposed to variable external pressure) acting at the confluence of cortical veins in the dural sinus. This implies that, in normal circumstances of perfusion balance, a certain degree of venous collapse physiologically occurs at the distal end of the cortical vein. This is passively modulated by the transmural pressure of the venous wall (i.e. the difference between internal blood pressure and external CSF pressure). The mechanism provides that the blood pressure of the cortical vein upstream the collapsed segment is dynamically maintained a few mmHg higher than the CSF pressure, so as to prevent their collapse during the large physiological fluctuations of the intracranial pressure. Moreover, the partial collapse of the vein confluence also generates a sharp pressure drop of the blood entering into the sinus. The CSF is drained in dural sinus through arachnoid villi proportionally to its pressure gradient with the sinus blood. The venous pressure drop between cortical veins and dural sinus is therefore needed to ensure that the CSF can leave the cranio-spinal space with the same speed with which it is produced, without having to reach a too high pressure, which would compress the cortical veins. Notably, the mechanism requires that the walls of the dural sinuses are rigid enough to avoid the collapse under the external cerebrospinal fluid pressure, and predicts that in the presence of excessively flexible dural sinuses, the system admits a second point of balance between cerebral fluid pressure and dural sinus pressure, at higher values. The second balance state is due to the triggering of a self-limiting venous collapse feedback loop between the CSF pressure, that compresses the sinus, and the subsequent increase of the dural sinus pressure, that further raises the intracranial pressure. The loop may stabilize only when the maximum stretching allowed by the venous wall is reached. Then, a new relatively stable and self-sustaining balance state is achieved, at the price of a higher CSF and dural sinus pressure values. We propose that this model is crucially involved in Idiopatic Intracranial Hypertension pathogenesis with and without papilledema, a condition that could be described as a pathological new balance state, relatively stable, between intracranial and dural venous pressure, at higher absolute values.

KEY WORDS: Cerebrovascular circulation - Pseudotumor cerebri - Etiology

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