Spontaneous Oscillations in Cerebral Blood Flow Velocity Give Evidence of Different Autonomic Dysfunctions in Various Types of Headache


Address all correspondence to Dr. Ulrich Sliwka, Department of Neurology, Friedrich-Schiller University, Philosophenweg 3, D-07740 Jena, Germany.


Objectives.—Our objectives were to determine if: (1) patients with migraine have B wave abnormalities in comparison to normal controls and patients with chronic tension headache and (2) patients with chronic tension headache have an imbalance in autonomic activity that is reflected in differences in Mayer wave activity in comparison to normal controls.

Background.—B waves and Mayer waves are spontaneous oscillations in cerebral blood flow velocity with a frequency of 0.5 to 3 or 4 to 7 cycles per minute, respectively, and can be measured by transcranial Doppler sonography. There is experimental evidence that B waves are generated by certain brain stem nuclei which modulate the lumen of the small intracerebral vessels via monoaminergic nerve endings. In contrast, Mayer waves in cerebral blood flow velocity have no central generator but mirror the Mayer waves in arterial blood pressure which represent peripheral autonomic activity. Migraine may be attributed to a neurotransmitter imbalance in brain stem nuclei. Dysfunctions of the peripheral autonomic nervous system are known in patients with chronic tension headache.

Methods.—Using bilateral transcranial Doppler monitoring of the middle cerebral artery B waves and Mayer waves were studied in 30 patients with migraine without aura, 28 subjects with tension-type headache, and 30 normal controls. Coefficient of variation as a quantitative parameter for amplitude of waves and the mean frequency were calculated from the envelope curves of the Doppler spectra.

Results.—The coefficient of variation of B waves was higher in migrainous patients compared with patients with tension-type headache and normal controls (P<.05), indicating an increase in activity of brain stem nuclei in migraine only. Patients with chronic tension headaches had lower values for Mayer wave activity in comparison with normal controls (P<.05), a sign of an impairment of sympathetic activity.

Conclusions.—Our data support the dysfunction of the brain stem monoaminergic/serotonergic system in migraine. In contrast, patients with chronic tension headache have an autonomic dysfunction of peripheral origin presenting as a decrease of sympathetic activity.