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Nitric oxide in primary headaches

Thomsen, Lars Lykkea; Olesen, Jesb

Current Opinion in Neurology: June 2001 - Volume 14 - Issue 3 - p 315-321
Review Article

The molecular mechanisms that underlie the primary headaches - migraine, cluster headache and tension-type headache - have not yet been clarified. On the basis of studies in headache induced by intravenous infusions of glyceryl trinitrate (an exogenous nitric oxide donor) and histamine (which liberates nitric oxide from vascular endothelium), it has been suggested that nitric oxide is a likely candidate responsible molecule. The present review deals with the biology of this small messenger molecule, and the updated scientific evidence that suggests a key role for this molecule in primary headaches. This evidence suggests that the release of nitric oxide from blood vessels, perivascular nerve endings or from brain tissue is an important molecular trigger mechanism in spontaneous headache pain. Pilot trials have shown efficacy of a nitric oxide synthase inhibitor in both migraine attacks and chronic tension-type headache. These observations suggest new approaches to the pharmacological treatment of headache.

aDepartment of Neurology, The Lundbeck Institute, Skodsborg, Denmark, and bCopenhagen Headache Center, Department of Neurology, Glostrup University Hospital, Glostrup, Denmark

Correspondence to Lars Lykke Thomsen MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, The Lundbeck Institute, Skodsborg Strandvej 113, DK-2942 Skodsborg, Denmark. Tel +45 4556 0164; fax: +45 4556 0145; e-mail:

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.