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Microsc Res Tech. 2001 May 1;53(3):179-87.

Neuroimaging in headache.

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Institute of Neurology, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


Neuroimaging of primary headache syndromes, such as cluster headache and migraine, has begun to provide a glimpse of the neuroanatomical and physiological basis of the conditions. Although these headache types have been widely described as vascular, there is now considerable imaging and clinical evidence to suggest that they are primarily driven from the brain. The shared anatomical and physiological substrate for both of these clinical problems is the neural innervation of the cranial circulation. Functional imaging with positron emission tomography (PET) has shed light on the genesis of both syndromes, documenting activation in the midbrain and pons in migraine, and in the hypothalamic grey in cluster headache. These areas are involved not simply as a response to first division nociceptive pain impulses but specifically in each syndrome, probably in some permissive or dysfunctional role. In a recent PET study in cluster headache, as well as brain activation, tracer pooled in the region of the major basal arteries. This is likely to be due to vasodilatation of these vessels during the acute pain-attack and represents the first convincing activation of neural vasodilator mechanisms in humans. The author takes the view that the known physiology and pathophysiology of the systems involved dictate that these disorders should be collectively regarded as neurovascular headaches to place emphasis on the interaction between nerves and vessels, which is the underlying characteristic of these syndromes. Understanding this neurovascular relationship facilitates an understanding of the pain mechanisms, while characterising the CNS dysfunction will ultimately allow us to dissect out the basic pathogenesis of these disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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