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Keywords:

  • Cluster headache;
  • nociceptive blink reflex;
  • occipital nerve block;
  • trigeminal nerve

Headache syndromes often involve occipital and neck symptoms, suggesting a functional connectivity between nociceptive trigeminal and cervical afferents. Although reports regarding effective occipital nerve blockades in cluster headache exist, the reason for the improvement of the clinical symptoms is not known. Using occipital nerve blockade and nociceptive blink reflexes, we were able to demonstrate functional connectivity between trigeminal and occipital nerves in healthy volunteers. The R2 components of the nociceptive blink reflex and the clinical outcome in 15 chronic cluster headache patients were examined before and after unilateral nerve blockade of the greater occipital nerve with 5 ml prilocain (1%) on the headache side. In contrast to recent placebo-controlled studies, only nine of the 15 cluster patients reported some minor improvement in their headache. Six patients did not report any clinical change. Exclusively on the injection side, the R2 response areas decreased and R2 latencies increased significantly after the nerve blockade. These neurophysiological and clinical data provide further evidence for functional connectivity between cervical and trigeminal nerves in humans. The trigeminocervical complex does not seem to be primarily facilitated in cluster headache, suggesting a more centrally located pathology of the disease. However, the significant changes of trigeminal function as a consequence of inhibition of the greater occipital nerve were not mirrored by a significant clinical effect, suggesting that the clinical improvement of occipital nerve blockades is not due to a direct inhibitory effect on trigeminal transmission.