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Neurophysiological correlates of clinical improvement after greater occipital nerve (GON) block in chronic migraine: Relevance for chronic migraine pathophysiology

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Alessandro Viganò, Maria Claudia Torrieri, Massimiliano Toscano, Francesca Puledda, Barbara Petolicchio, Tullia Sasso D'Elia, Angela Verzina, Sonia Ruggiero, Marta Altieri, Edoardo Vicenzini, Jean Schoenen, Vittorio Di Piero

Original languageEnglish
Article number73
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number1
Published20 Aug 2018

King's Authors


Background: Therapeutic management of Chronic Migraine (CM), often associated with Medication Overuse Headache (MOH), is chiefly empirical, as no biomarker predicting or correlating with clinical efficacy is available to address therapeutic choices. The present study searched for neurophysiological correlates of Greater Occipital Nerve Block (GON-B) effects in CM. Methods: We recruited 17 CM women, of whom 12 with MOH, and 19 healthy volunteers (HV). Patients had no preventive treatment since at least 3 months. After a 30-day baseline, they received a bilateral betamethasone-lidocaine GON-B of which the therapeutic effect was assessed 1 month later. Habituation of visual evoked potentials (VEP) and intensity dependence of auditory evoked potentials (IDAP) were recorded before and 1 week after the GON-B. Results: At baseline, CM patients had a VEP habituation not different from HV, but a steeper IDAP value than HV (p = 0.01), suggestive of a lower serotonergic tone. GON-B significantly reduced the number of total headache days per month (- 34.9%; p = 0.003). Eight out 17CM patients reversed to episodic migraine and medication overuse resolved in 11 out of 12 patients. One week after the GON-B VEP habituation became lacking respect to baseline (p = 0.01) and to that of HV (p = 0.02) like in episodic migraine, while the IDAP slope significantly flattened (p < 0.0001). GON-B-induced reduction in headache days positively correlated with IDAP slope decrease (rho = 0.51, p = 0.03). Conclusions: GON-B may be effective in the treatment of CM, with or without MOH. The pre-treatment IDAP increase is compatible with a weak central serotonergic tone, which is strengthened after GON-B, suggesting that serotonergic mechanisms may play a role in CM and its reversion to episodic migraine. Since the degree of post-treatment IDAP decrease is correlated with clinical improvement, IDAP might be potentially useful as an early predictor of GON-B efficacy.

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