Convergence of cervical and trigeminal sensory afferents

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2003 Oct;7(5):377-83. doi: 10.1007/s11916-003-0037-x.


Cranial nociceptive perception shows a distinct topographic distribution, with the trigeminal nerve receiving sensory information from the anterior portions of the head, the greater occipital nerve, and branches of the upper cervical roots in the posterior regions. However, this distribution is not respected during headache attacks, even if the etiology of the headache is specific for only one nerve. Nociceptive information from the trigeminal and cervical territories activates the neurons in the trigeminal nucleus caudalis that extend to the C2 spinal segment and lateral cervical nucleus in the dorsolateral cervical area. These neurons are classified as multimodal because they receive sensory information from more than one afferent type. Clinically, trigeminal activation produces symptoms in the trigeminal and cervical territory and cervical activation produces symptoms in the cervical and trigeminal territory. The overlap between the trigeminal nerve and cervical is known as a convergence mechanism. For some time, convergence mechanisms were thought to be secondary to clinical observations. However, animal studies and clinical evidence have expanded our knowledge of convergence mechanisms. In this paper, the role of convergence mechanisms in nociceptive physiology, physiopathology of the headaches, clinical diagnosis, and therapeutic conduct are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electrophysiology / instrumentation
  • Genes, fos / genetics
  • Headache / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglossal Nerve / physiopathology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Spinal Nerves / physiopathology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiopathology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos