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Neurol Clin. 1990 Nov;8(4):801-15.

Basic mechanisms in vascular headache.

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Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston.


To better understand and treat painful conditions, one needs to identify the cause, discover the source, and develop knowledge of peripheral and central pain transmission; headaches are no exception. The development of appropriate animal models is important. Accordingly, we have reviewed the anatomy, neurochemistry, electrophysiology, and pharmacology of the trigeminovascular system in experimental animals and emphasized whenever possible the relevance of this final common pathway to migraine, cluster, and other headache syndromes in humans. For example, based on recent anatomic dissections, the pericarotid cavernous sinus plexus was suggested as an important focus to investigate cluster headache pathophysiology. This plexus is an anatomic point of convergence for the nerves giving rise to the signs of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity and sensory symptoms that develop in cluster patients. As in other nociceptive systems, trigeminovascular axons assume at least two important roles. One concerns the transmission of nociceptive information. Electrophysiologic evidence supports the trigeminal nucleus caudalis as an important site for the convergence of visceral (vessel) and somatic (forehead) inputs to mediate the referral of vascular pain to superficial tissues. A second important role concerns the initiation of local increases in blood flow and enhanced protein permeability (sterile inflammation) via the axonal release of vasoactive neuropeptides. Plasma extravasation develops within the dura mater following trigeminal stimulation. Extravasation can be blocked by the administration of ergot alkaloids or sumatriptan, a new serotonin-like agonist, and a prejunctional (neuronal) mechanism of action for these drugs (such as blockade of release) was suggested based on experimental evidence. Whether vasoconstriction also relates to the therapeutic efficacy remains to be determined. As in other organ systems, real or threatened tissue injury provides an important stimulus for depolarizing sensory fibers. The stimulus may come from external conditions such as reduced blood flow or hypoglycemia. The brain may also possess intrinsic neuronal mechanisms by which nociceptors may be synthesized (e.g., glutamate-induced neurotoxicity, seizures). Molecules of relevance include bradykinin, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and potassium. Experimental evidence was presented demonstrating that the trigeminal nerve mediates hyperemia within cortical gray matter by axon-reflex like mechanisms. An important role for this nerve was established during the hyperemic period of recirculation after ischemia or during severe hypertension above the limits of autoregulation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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