The study set out to investigate the role of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) and orexin-A in chronic migraine (CM) and medication-overuse headache (MOH). Twenty-seven patients affected by CM and 30 with MOH were enrolled. Control CSF specimens were obtained from 20 age-matched subjects who underwent lumbar puncture for diagnostic purposes, and in all of them CSF and blood tests excluded central nervous system or systemic diseases. Orexin-A and CRF were determined by radioimmunoassay methods. Significantly higher levels of orexin-A and CRF were found in the CSF of MOH and to a lesser extent in patients with CM compared with control subjects (orexin-A: P < 0.001 and P < 0.02; CRF: P < 0.002 and P < 0.0003). A significant positive correlation was also found between CSF orexin-A values and those of CRF (R = 0.71; P < 0.0008), monthly drug intake group (R = 0.39; P < 0.03) and scores of a self-completion 10-item instrument to measure dependence upon a variety of substances, the Leeds Dependence Questionnaire (LDQ) in the MOH group (R = 0.68; P < 0.0003). The significantly higher orexin-A levels found in CM and MOH can be interpreted as a compensatory response to chronic head pain or, alternatively, as an expression of hypothalamic response to stress due to chronic pain. A potential role for orexin-A in driving drug seeking in MOH patients through activation of stress pathways in the brain can also be hypothesized.