Objective: We tested the hypothesis of a defective functional connectivity between the posterior hypothalamus and diencephalic-mesencephalic regions in chronic cluster headache based on: a) clinical and neuro-endocrinological findings in cluster headache patients; b) neuroimaging findings during cluster headache attacks; c) neuroimaging findings in drug-refractory chronic cluster headache patients improved after successful deep brain stimulation. Methods: Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging, associated with a seed-based approach, was employed to investigate the functional connectivity of the posterior hypothalamus in chronic cluster headache patients (n = 17) compared to age and sex-matched healthy subjects (n = 16). Random-effect analyses were performed to study differences between patients and controls in ipsilateral and contralateral-to-the-pain posterior hypothalamus functional connectivity. Results: Cluster headache patients showed an increased functional connectivity between the ipsilateral posterior hypothalamus and a number of diencephalic-mesencephalic structures, comprising ventral tegmental area, dorsal nuclei of raphe, and bilateral substantia nigra, sub-thalamic nucleus, and red nucleus (p < 0.005 FDR-corrected vs. control group). No difference between patients and controls was found comparing the contralateral hypothalami. Conclusions: The observed deranged functional connectivity between the posterior ipsilateral hypothalamus and diencephalic-mesencephalic regions in chronic cluster headache patients mainly involves structures that are part of (i.e. ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra) or modulate (dorsal nuclei of raphe, sub-thalamic nucleus) the midbrain dopaminergic systems. The midbrain dopaminergic systems could play a role in cluster headache pathophysiology and in particular in the chronicization process. Future studies are needed to better clarify if this finding is specific to cluster headache or if it represents an unspecific response to chronic pain.
- Chronic cluster headache
- midbrain dopaminergic systems
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology