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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 1999 Feb;19(2):115-27.

The trigeminovascular system in humans: pathophysiologic implications for primary headache syndromes of the neural influences on the cerebral circulation.

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1
University Department of Clinical Neurology, Institute of Neurology, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, UK.

Abstract

Primary headache syndromes, such as cluster headache and migraine, are widely described as vascular headaches, although considerable clinical evidence suggests that both are primarily driven from the brain. The shared anatomical and physiologic substrate for both of these clinical problems is the neural innervation of the cranial circulation. Functional imaging with positron emission tomography has shed light on the genesis of both syndromes, documenting activation in the midbrain and pons in migraine and in the hypothalamic gray in cluster headache. These areas are involved in the pain process in a permissive or triggering manner rather than as a response to first-division nociceptive pain impulses. In a positron emission tomography study in cluster headache, however, activation in the region of the major basal arteries was observed. This is likely to result from vasodilation of these vessels during the acute pain attack as opposed to the rest state in cluster headache, and represents the first convincing activation of neural vasodilator mechanisms in humans. The observation of vasodilation was also made in an experimental trigeminal pain study, which concluded that the observed dilation of these vessels in trigeminal pain is not inherent to a specific headache syndrome, but rather is a feature of the trigeminal neural innervation of the cranial circulation. Clinical and animal data suggest that the observed vasodilation is, in part, an effect of a trigeminoparasympathetic reflex. The data presented here review these developments in the physiology of the trigeminovascular system, which demand renewed consideration of the neural influences at work in many primary headaches and, thus, further consideration of the physiology of the neural innervation of the cranial circulation. We take the view that the known physiologic and pathophysiologic mechanisms of the systems involved dictate that these disorders should be collectively regarded as neurovascular headaches to emphasize the interaction between nerves and vessels, which is the underlying characteristic of these syndromes. Moreover, the syndromes can be understood only by a detailed study of the cerebrovascular physiologic mechanisms that underpin their expression.

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