Article

Morphing voxels: the hype around structural imaging of headache patients.

Department of Systems Neuroscience, Universitäts-Krankenhaus Eppendorf , Martinistrasse 52, Hamburg, Germany.
Brain (Impact Factor: 10.23). 06/2009; 132(Pt 6):1419-25. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awp116
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Neuroimaging analysis using structural data has begun to provide insights into the pathophysiology of headache syndromes. Several independent studies have suggested a decrease in grey matter in pain-transmitting areas in migraine patients. Most of these data are discussed as damage or loss of brain grey matter, reinforcing the idea of migraine as a progressive disease. However, given what we know about the nature of morphometric changes detectable by the methods we have to date, this interpretation is highly speculative and not supported by the data. It is likely that these changes are the consequence and not the cause of the respective headache syndromes, as they are probably not irreversible and only mirror the proportion or duration of pain suffered. Moreover, structural changes are not headache specific and have to be seen in the light of a wealth of pain studies using these methods. The studies in cluster headache patients prompted the use of stereotactic stimulation of the hypothalamic target point identified by functional and structural neuroimaging. Due to the nature of the methods used and due to a high anatomical variance it is more than questionable to use this point as a definite answer to the source of the headache in clusters and even more so when it is uncritically used in individuals. We need a way to study each patient individually using the functional imaging method with the highest spatial and temporal resolution available to enable us to target the seed point for deep brain stimulation on this individual basis. One of the major future challenges is to understand the behavioural consequences and cellular mechanisms underlying neuroanatomic changes in pain and headache.

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