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Pain. 2003 Sep;105(1-2):57-64.

Reduced habituation to experimental pain in migraine patients: a CO(2) laser evoked potential study.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Universit√† Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, L go A Gemelli 8, 00168, Rome, Italy.


The habituation to sensory stimuli of different modalities is reduced in migraine patients. However, the habituation to pain has never been evaluated. Our aim was to assess the nociceptive pathway function and the habituation to experimental pain in patients with migraine. Scalp potentials were evoked by CO(2) laser stimulation (laser evoked potentials, LEPs) of the hand and facial skin in 24 patients with migraine without aura (MO), 19 patients with chronic tension-type headache (CTTH), and 28 control subjects (CS). The habituation was studied by measuring the changes of LEP amplitudes across three consecutive repetitions of 30 trials each (the repetitions lasted 5 min and were separated by 5-min intervals). The slope of the regression line between LEP amplitude and number of repetitions was taken as an index of habituation. The LEPs consisted of middle-latency, low-amplitude responses (N1, contralateral temporal region, and P1, frontal region) followed by a late, high-amplitude, negative-positive complex (N2/P2, vertex). The latency and amplitude of these responses were similar in both patients and controls. While CS and CTTH patients showed a significant habituation of the N2/P2 response, in MO patients this LEP component did not develop any habituation at all after face stimulation and showed a significantly lower habituation than in CS after hand stimulation. The habituation index of the vertex N2/P2 complex exceeded the normal limits in 13 out of the 24 MO patients and in none of the 19 CTTH patients (P<0.0001; Fisher's exact test). Moreover, while the N1-P1 amplitude showed a significant habituation in CS after hand stimulation, it did not change across repetitions in MO patients. In conclusion, no functional impairment of the nociceptive pathways, including the trigeminal pathways, was found in either MO or CTTH patients. But patients with migraine had a reduced habituation, which probably reflects an abnormal excitability of the cortical areas involved in pain processing.

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