Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist
January 2, 2019
Cluster headache is a debilitating neurological condition which may be difficult to control. Novel approaches to treatment have been explored because of its refractory response to treatment.
Mechanisms involved in cluster headache
The pathophysiology involves the trigeminovascular pathway. This involves innervation to the cerebral blood vessels and trigeminal complex including the nerves and ganglion. The ganglion has connections with the blood vessels of the cerebrum, the trigeminocervical complex and the dorsal horns of the C1 and C2 levels. In cluster headaches, certain chemicals are found to be increased during an attack including calcitonin gene-related peptide and neurokinins which are neuropeptide vasodilators (1).
Calcitonin gene-related peptide antibody therapies
Some of the new anti-CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide antibody) therapies recently introduced to migraine patients have been applied to patients with cluster headache, including fremazunab and galcanezumab (2). it has been found that CGRP is released from the trigeminal ganglion and its transcription is increased when there are conditions that mimic those of migraine which includes an neurogenic inflammatory state (3).
There has been some success in its treatment although its application is not yet indicated for these drugs (2).
Botulinum toxin injection
Injection of onabotulinum toxin into the sphenopalatine ganglion was studied in 7 patients with chronic cluster headache. Of these, 3 dropped out. The patients were followed 24 months. There was a 50% reduction in occurrence of pain, after repeated injections. Due to the small size results should be interpreted with caution, however, because of repeated injections, its effectiveness may be significantly underestimated. This is a small pilot observational study. Larger studies are needed (4).
Vagal nerve stimulation
Vagal nerve stimulation was employed in 30 patients and a mean reduction of 26 attacks/week to 9.5 over a 3-6 month period was seen. Mean attack duration was 51.9 to 29.5 minutes. Larger studies are needed (5).
Several new novel approaches include vagal nerve stimulation and botulinum toxin injections. Anti-CGRP antibodies are another novel treatment but have not yet been submitted for an indication. Larger studies are needed.
- Goadsby, P.J., Edvinson, L., Human in vivo evidence for trigeminovascular activation in cluster headache.Neuropeptude chanes and effects of acute attackes therapies. Brain. 1994 Jun; 117 (Pt 3):427-34
- Ashehoug, I., Bratbak, D.F., Tronvik, E.A. Long-term outcome of patients with intractable chronic cluster headache treated with injection of onabotulinumtoxin A toward the sphenopalatine ganglion – an observational study. Headache, 2018, Nov; 58(10):1519-1529
- P.L. Durham, Calcitonin gene-related peptide and migraine. 2006, Jun. 46 (Suppl 1):S3-S8
- Tepper, S.J. Anti-calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) therapies: update on a previous review after the American Headache Society 60th Scientific Meeting, San Francisco, June 2018
- Marin, J., Giffin, N., Consiglio, E., mcClure, C., Liebler, E., Davies, B. Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation for treatment of cluster headache: early UK clinical experience. J. Headache Pain. 2018, Nov. 23; 19
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