Introduction: Chronic headache conditions are characterized by persistent sensitization of the trigeminal system, which involves dysfunction of descending pain modulation. We previously reported that noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) inhibits trigeminal nociception in models of episodic migraine through a mechanism involving enhanced serotonergic and GABAergic descending pain signaling. Objectives: The analgesic effectiveness of nVNS and morphine were investigated in an animal model of chronic headache mediated by the combination of the 3 migraine risk factors of neck muscle tension, paradoxical sleep deprivation, and pungent odors. Methods: Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with complete Freund's adjuvant in the trapezius and sleep deprived for 1 night to promote trigeminal sensitization. After 7 days, animals were exposed to a pungent odor, and mechanical nocifensive head withdrawal responses were determined using von Frey filaments. Beginning on day 3 after odor exposure, animals were treated daily with either nVNS or morphine for 7 days. Results: Exposure of animals sensitized by neck inflammation and sleep deprivation to a pungent odor resulted in a prolonged state of trigeminal nociception. Daily administration of nVNS or morphine significantly repressed the nocifensive response; however, cessation resulted in a return to heightened pretreatment nocifensive levels. Conclusions: The combination of reported migraine risk factors promotes a state of sustained trigeminal hypersensitivity characteristic of chronic headache. Daily nVNS was similarly effective as morphine in inhibiting nociception and may represent a safer, opioid-sparing therapeutic option for other chronic pain disorders involving sensitization of the trigeminal system by promoting descending pain modulation.


JVIC-Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences

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© 2020 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The International Association for the Study of Pain. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited


Chronic headache, Opioid, Sensitization, Sleep deprivation, Trigeminal, Vagus nerve

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Pain Reports