Stimulation of the greater occipital nerve induces increased central excitability of dural afferent input

Brain. 2002 Jul;125(Pt 7):1496-509. doi: 10.1093/brain/awf166.


Patients with primary headaches often report pain that involves not only the front of the head, innervated by the first (ophthalmic) division of the trigeminal nerve, but also the back of the head, innervated by the greater occipital nerve (GON) that is a branch of the C(2) spinal root. The aim of this work was to study the physiology of trigeminocervical input in a model of cranial nociception by describing a population of nociceptive neurones that receive convergent input from the supratentorial dura and the GON. Rats were anaesthetized with pentobarbital, paralysed and ventilated. The parietal dura above the middle meningeal artery was stimulated through a closed cranial window. The GON was exposed in the neck and stimulated. Recordings were made from 67 neurones (52 wide dynamic range neurones/15 nociceptive-specific-neurones) in the C(2) spinal dorsal horn, which responded to stimulation of the dura and the GON. Most neurones showed receptive fields corresponding to the first trigeminal division as well as input from C(2) skin and muscle. Neurones were recorded in superficial and deep layers of the dorsal horn. All neurones tested received input from the ipsilateral and contralateral GON (n = 5). The responses to dural stimulation were analysed before and after stimulation of the GON. Supramaximal electrical stimulation of the GON (20 s to 5 min) enhanced afferent dural input in 8/20 neurones. Application of the C-fibre activator mustard oil (MO) to the cutaneous receptive field or suboccipital muscles innervated by the GON induced an increased excitability of dural responses in 8/12 and 9/10 neurones, respectively. Stimulation of muscle afferents had a significant longer facilitatory effect than cutaneous stimulation (P < 0.05). These results show that a considerable population of neurones show convergent input from both dura as well as cervical cutaneous and muscle territories, which supports the view of a functional continuum between the caudal trigeminal nucleus and upper cervical segments involved in cranial nociception. The facilitatory effect of GON stimulation on dural stimulation suggests a central mechanism at the second order neurone level. This mechanism may be important in pain referral from cervical structures to the head and therefore have implications for most forms of primary headache.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / drug effects
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Dura Mater / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Head / innervation*
  • Headache / etiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Mustard Plant
  • Neck
  • Nerve Fibers / drug effects
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Oils
  • Posterior Horn Cells / cytology
  • Posterior Horn Cells / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology


  • Plant Extracts
  • Plant Oils
  • mustard oil