Noxious chemical stimulation of rat facial mucosa increases intracranial blood flow through a trigemino-parasympathetic reflex – an experimental model for vascular dysfunctions in cluster headache


Karl Messlinger, Institute of Physiology and Experimental Pathophysiology, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Universitätsstr. 17, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany. Tel. + 49 9131 852 2483, fax + 49 9131 852 2497, e-mail


Cluster headache is characterized by typical autonomic dysfunctions including facial and intracranial vascular disturbances. Both the trigeminal and the cranial parasympathetic systems may be involved in mediating these dysfunctions. An experimental model was developed in the rat to measure changes in lacrimation and intracranial blood flow following noxious chemical stimulation of facial mucosa. Blood flow was monitored in arteries of the exposed cranial dura mater and the parietal cortex using laser Doppler flowmetry. Capsaicin (0.01–1 mm) applied to oral or nasal mucosa induced increases in dural and cortical blood flow and provoked lacrimation. These responses were blocked by systemic pre-administration of hexamethonium chloride (20 mg/kg). The evoked increases in dural blood flow were also abolished by topical pre-administration of atropine (1 mm) and [Lys1, Pro2,5, Arg3,4, Tyr6]-VIP (0.1 mm), a vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) antagonist, onto the exposed dura mater. We conclude that noxious stimulation of facial mucosa increases intracranial blood flow and lacrimation via a trigemino-parasympathetic reflex. The blood flow responses seem to be mediated by the release of acetylcholine and VIP within the meninges. Similar mechanisms  may  be  involved  in the pathogenesis of cluster headache.