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J Neurophysiol. 1998 Feb;79(2):964-82.

Chemical stimulation of the intracranial dura induces enhanced responses to facial stimulation in brain stem trigeminal neurons.

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Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Chemical activation and sensitization of trigeminal primary afferent neurons innervating the intracranial meninges have been postulated as possible causes of certain headaches. This sensitization, however, cannot explain the extracranial hypersensitivity that often accompanies headache. The goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that chemical activation and sensitization of meningeal sensory neurons can lead to activation and sensitization of central trigeminal neurons that receive convergent input from the dura and skin. This hypothesis was investigated by recording changes in the responsiveness of 23 [16 wide-dynamic range (WDR), 5 high threshold (HT), and 2 low threshold (LT)] dura-sensitive neurons in nucleus caudalis to mechanical stimulation of their dural receptive fields and to mechanical and thermal stimulation of their cutaneous receptive fields after local application of inflammatory mediators or acidic agents to the dura. Responses to brief chemical stimulation were recorded in 70% of the neurons; most were short, lasting the duration of the stimulus only. Twenty minutes after chemical stimulation of the dura, the following changes occurred: 1) 95% of the neurons showed significant increases in sensitivity to mechanical indentation of the dura: their thresholds to dural indentation changed from 1.57 to 0.49 g (means, P < 0.0001), and the response magnitude to identical stimuli increased by two- to fourfold; 2) 80% of the neurons showed significant increases in cutaneous mechanosensitivity: their responses to brush and pressure increased 2.5- (P < 0.05) and 1. 6-fold (P < 0.05), respectively; 3) 75% of the neurons showed a significant increase in cutaneous thermosensitivity: their thresholds to slow heating of the skin changed from 43.7 +/- 0.7 to 40.3 +/- 0.7 degrees C (P < 0.005) and to slow cooling from 23.7 +/- 3.3 to 29.2 +/- 1.8 degrees C (P < 0.05); 4) dural receptive fields expanded within 30 min and cutaneous receptive fields within 2-4 h; and 5) ongoing activity developed in WDR and HT but not in LT neurons. Application of lidocaine to the dura abolished the response to dural stimulation but had minimal effect on the increased responses to cutaneous stimulation (suggesting involvement of a central mechanism in maintaining the sensitized state). Antidromic activation (current of <30 muA) of dura-sensitive neurons revealed projections to the hypothalamus, thalamus, and midbrain. These findings suggest that chemical activation and sensitization of dura-sensitive peripheral nociceptors could lead to enhanced responses in central neurons and that this central sensitization therefore could result in extracranial tenderness (mechanical and thermal allodynia) in the absence of extracranial pathology. The projection targets of these neurons suggest a possible role in mediating the autonomic, endocrine, and affective symptoms that accompany headaches.

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