Object. A possible relationship between neurovascular compression of the rostral ventrolateral medulla oblongata (RVLM) and essential hypertension is investigated using a specifically designed magnetic resonance (MR) imaging method.
In conjunction with the ninth and 10th cranial nerves, baroreceptor afferents enter the RVLM, which represents a crucial relay for regulation of autonomic blood pressure. In 1985 Jannetta and coworkers proposed a causal relationship between essential hypertension and intraoperatively observed neurovascular compression of the left RVLM.
Methods. Currently, MR imaging is the method of choice for the assessment of neurovascular relationships at the brainstem. By obtaining axial images of a thin-slice turbo inversion-recovery sequence and three-dimensional time-of-flight MR angiograms (fast imaging with steady-state precision), the authors documented the occurrence of neurovascular contacts with the RVLM at the level of the root entry zones (REZs) of the ninth and 10th cranial nerves in 25 patients with essential hypertension, 30 normotensive volunteers, and 10 patients with renal hypertension.
Neurovascular contacts with the REZ at the left RVLM were found in 32% of patients with essential hypertension, 37% of normotensive volunteers, and 20% of patients with renal hypertension. In total, neurovascular contacts on either side of the RVLM were documented in 68% of patients with essential hypertension, 53% of normotensive volunteers, and 50% of patients with renal hypertension.
Conclusions. The results do not support the theory of neurovascular compression in cases of essential hypertension. Findings of neurovascular contacts on MR images are not indications for decompression surgery. For further clarification, however, prospective MR imaging studies should be considered in young patients with essential hypertension in whom the history of high blood pressure is short.