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Sensitization of meningeal sensory neurons and the origin of headaches


THE headaches that accompany certain intracranial pathologies (such as meningitis, subarachnoid haemorrhage and tumour) have been considered to result from mechanical or chemical stimulation of pain-sensitive structures of the intracranial meninges1,2. Although the recurrent headache of migraine is of unknown origin and is not accompanied by an identifiable pathology, it shares with intracranial headaches features that suggest an exaggerated intracranial mechanosensitivity (worsening of the pain by coughing, breath-holding or sudden head movement1,3). One possible basis for such symptoms would be a sensitization of meningeal afferents to mechanical stimuli. Previous studies of neuronal responses to meningeal stimulation have focused primarily on cells in the central portion of the trigeminal pathway, and have not investigated the possible occurrence of sensitization4–12. We have recorded the activity of primary afferent neurons in the rat trigeminal ganglion that innervate the dural venous sinuses. Chemical stimulation of their dural receptive fields with inflammatory mediators both directly excited the neurons and enhanced their mechanical sensitivity, such that they were strongly activated by mechanical stimuli that initially had evoked little or no response. These properties of meningeal afferents (chemosensitivity and sensitization) may contribute to the intracranial mechanical hypersensitivity that is characteristic of some types of clinically occurring headaches, and may also contribute to the throbbing pain of migraine.

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Strassman, A., Raymond, S. & Burstein, R. Sensitization of meningeal sensory neurons and the origin of headaches. Nature 384, 560–564 (1996).

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