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The role of imaging in the pathophysiology and diagnosis of headache

May, Arne

Current Opinion in Neurology: June 2005 - Volume 18 - Issue 3 - p 293–297
doi: 10.1097/

Purpose of review Functional neuroimaging in headache patients has revolutionized our understanding of these syndromes and provided unique insights into some of the most common maladies in humans, suggesting that at least migraine and cluster headache are driven primarily from the brain. This review highlights new studies and recent advances in studying headache using neuroimaging.

Recent findings Concerning the diagnostics of headache, an EFNS Task Force evaluated recently the usefulness of imaging procedures in non-acute headache patients on the basis of evidence from the literature and defined guidelines on when to use magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography. Regarding the pathophysiology of primary headache syndromes, repeated and independent findings reinforce the crucial role for the brainstem in acute and probably also in chronic migraine, and the hypothalamic grey in several trigemino-autonomic headaches. If further studies confirm these findings, a better understanding will be gained of where and how acute and preventive therapy can be targeted.

Summary Given the rapid advances in functional neuroimaging, in particular newer techniques such as voxel-based morphometry and magnetic resonance spectrometry, functional imaging continues to play a significant role and opens new avenues in targeting the neural substrates in individual primary headache syndromes.

Department of Neurology, University of Hamburg, Martinistrasse 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany

Correspondence to Arne May, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Hamburg, Martinistrasse 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany Tel: +49 (0)40 42803 9364; fax: +49 (0)40 42803 9955; e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.