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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Substance P theory: a unique focus on the painful and painless phenomena of cluster headache.

These studies of cluster headache (CH) focus on two key features of pain transmission: a) sensory nerves when stimulated, as well as the expected afferent transmission, also display an efferent function which affects capillaries, glands, and smooth muscle (of the iris in CH); substance P ( SP) and allied transmitters such as Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP) and Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide ( CGRP) are the main agonists of this dual afferent-efferent function; b) impaired pain transmission (deafferentation-like condition) provokes a rostral spread of neuronal irritability and automatic firing ("quasi epileptic foci") producing a clinical predilection for pain with the generation of "spontaneous" pains along the sensory pathways. The substrates studied in the present experiments are the iris, salivary glands, and nasal mucosa. 1) Iris: the conjunctival instillation of SP induces isocoric miosis both in CH sufferers and in normals, thus excluding gross SP receptoral dysfunction of the iris muscle in CH. Electrical stimulation of extraocular (infratrochlear) endings of the first branch of the trigeminal nerve provokes a miosis, which is significantly less in the symptomatic eye than in the contralateral one. This miosis is ascribed to a retrograde release of SP, induced by electrical stimulation of the trigeminal ophthalmic branch. The relatively poor miosis in the painful eye could correlate with a deficient release of SP from the sensory terminals in the iris. 2) Salivary glands: an increase of substance P-like immunoreactivity is found in the saliva taken from the asymptomatic side, but not from the painful side during a cluster headache attack, thus showing at this level also an asymmetry as previously shown in other head structures. 3) Nasal mucosa: intranasal application of capsaicin, a powerful releaser of SP from sensory terminals, evokes an immediate burning pain in the ipsilateral nasal, ocular, and temporal areas, as well as lacrimation and rhinorrhea. A gradual decrease (tachyphylaxis) of these phenomena is consistently observed after few days of daily nasal administration of capsaicin. When this treatment is applied to CH patients, a rapid decrease in the number and intensity of attacks, and even disappearance of symptoms accompanies the decline of the capsaicin-induced manifestations. Local (nasal) capsaicin, in spite of evoking immediately the same vegetative (rhinorrhea, lacrimation, conjunctival congestion) and in part nociceptive (transient nasal, ocular, temporal burning) phenomena of CH, never has been able to provoke delayed spontaneous-CH like attacks. Such delayed provoked attacks, one of the most pregnant phenomena in CH investigations, are almost constantly evoked by systemic stimuli.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)[1]


  1. Substance P theory: a unique focus on the painful and painless phenomena of cluster headache. Sicuteri, F., Fanciullacci, M., Nicolodi, M., Geppetti, P., Fusco, B.M., Marabini, S., Alessandri, M., Campagnolo, V. Headache. (1990) [Pubmed]
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