, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 174-184,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 11 Aug 2006

A review of diagnostic and functional imaging in headache


The neuroimaging of headache patients has revolutionised our understanding of the pathophysiology of primary headaches and provided unique insights into these syndromes. Modern imaging studies point, together with the clinical picture, towards a central triggering cause. The early functional imaging work using positron emission tomography shed light on the genesis of some syndromes, and has recently been refined, implying that the observed activation in migraine (brainstem) and in several trigeminal-autonomic headaches (hypothalamic grey) is involved in the pain process in either a permissive or triggering manner rather than simply as a response to first-division nociception per se. Using the advanced method of voxel-based morphometry, it has been suggested that there is a correlation between the brain area activated specifically in acute cluster headache — the posterior hypothalamic grey matter — and an increase in grey matter in the same region. No structural changes have been found for migraine and medication overuse headache, whereas patients with chronic tension-type headache demonstrated a significant grey matter decrease in regions known to be involved in pain processing. Modern neuroimaging thus clearly suggests that most primary headache syndromes are predominantly driven from the brain, activating the trigeminovascular reflex and needing therapeutics that act on both sides: centrally and peripherally.