Hypothalamic deep brain stimulation in the treatment of chronic cluster headache

Massimo Leone, Angelo Franzini, Alberto Proietti Cecchini, Giovanni Broggi, Gennaro Bussone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cluster headache (CH) is a short-lasting unilateral headache associated with ipsilateral craniofacial autonomic manifestations. A positron emission tomography (PET) study has shown that the posterior hypothalamus is activated during CH attacks, suggesting that hypothalamic hyperactivity plays a key role in CH pathophysiology. On this basis, stimulation of the ipsilateral posterior hypothalamus was hypothesized to counteract such hyperactivity to prevent intractable CH. Ten years after its introduction, hypothalamic stimulation has been proved to successfully prevent attacks in more than 60% of 58 hypothalamic implanted drug-resistant chronic CH patients. The implantation procedure has generally been proved to be safe, although it carries a small risk of brain haemorrhage. Long-term stimulation is safe, and nonsymptomatic impairment of orthostatic adaptation is the only noteworthy change. Microrecording studies will make it possible to better identify the target site. Neuroimaging investigations have shown that hypothalamic stimulation activates ipsilateral trigeminal complex, but with no immediate perceived sensation within the trigeminal distribution. Other studies on the pain threshold in chronically stimulated patients showed increased threshold for cold pain in the distribution of the first trigeminal branch ipsilateral to stimulation. These studies suggest that activation of the hypothalamus and of the trigeminal system are both necessary, but not sufficient to generate CH attacks. In addition to the hypothalamus, other unknown brain areas are likely to play a role in the pathophysiology of this illness. Hypothalamus implantation is associated with a small risk of intracerebral haemorrhage and must be performed by an expert neurosurgical team, in selected patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


  • Chronic cluster headache
  • Deep stimulation
  • Drug-resistant
  • Hypothalamus
  • Neuromodulation
  • Neurostimulation
  • Trigeminal autonomic cephalgias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology


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