Cephalalgia, Ahead of Print.
BackgroundThe role of the trigeminal autonomic reflex in headache syndromes, such as cluster headache, is undisputed but sparsely investigated. The aim of the present study was therefore, to identify neural correlates that play a role in the initiation of the trigeminal autonomic reflex. We further aimed to discriminate between components of the reflex that are involved in nociceptive compared to non-nociceptive processing.MethodsKinetic Oscillation Stimulation (KOS) in the left nostril was applied in order to provoke autonomic symptoms (e.g. lacrimation) via the trigeminal autonomic reflex in 26 healthy participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Unpleasantness and painfulness were assessed on a visual analog scale (VAS), in order to assess the quality of the stimulus (e.g. pain or no pain).ResultsDuring non-painful activation, specific regions involved in the trigeminal autonomic reflex became activated, including several brainstem nuclei but also cerebellar and bilateral insular regions. However, when the input leading to activation of the trigeminal autonomic reflex was perceived as painful, activation of the anterior hypothalamus, the locus coeruleus (LC), the ventral posteriomedial nucleus of the thalamus (VPM), as well as an activation of ipsilateral insular regions, was observed.ConclusionOur results suggest the anterior hypothalamus, besides the thalamus and specific brain stem regions, play a significant role in networks that mediate autonomic output (e.g. lacrimation) following trigeminal input, but only if the trigeminal system is activated by a stimulus comprising a painful component.