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      Unilateral occipital nerve stimulation for bilateral occipital neuralgia: a case report and literature review

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          The aim of this study is to present a case of successful relief of bilateral occipital neuralgia (ON) using unilateral occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) and to discuss the possible underlying mechanisms.

          Materials and methods

          We present the case of a 59-year-old female patient with severe bilateral ON treated with unilateral ONS. We systematically reviewed previous studies of ONS for ON, discussing the possible mechanisms of ONS in the relief of ON.


          The patient reported complete pain relief after consistent unilateral ONS during the follow-up period. The underlying mechanisms may be linked to the relationship between pain and several brain regions, including the pons, midbrain, and periaqueductal gray.


          ONS is an effective and safe option for treating ON. Future studies will be required to clarify the mechanisms by which unilateral occipital stimulation provided relief for bilateral neuralgia in this case.

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          Most cited references 27

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          Pathobiology of neuropathic pain.

          This review deals with physiological and biological mechanisms of neuropathic pain, that is, pain induced by injury or disease of the nervous system. Animal models of neuropathic pain mostly use injury to a peripheral nerve, therefore, our focus is on results from nerve injury models. To make sure that the nerve injury models are related to pain, the behavior was assessed of animals following nerve injury, i.e. partial/total nerve transection/ligation or chronic nerve constriction. The following behaviors observed in such animals are considered to indicate pain: (a) autotomy, i.e. self-attack, assessed by counting the number of wounds implied, (b) hyperalgesia, i.e. strong withdrawal responses to a moderate heat stimulus, (c) allodynia, i.e. withdrawal in response to non-noxious tactile or cold stimuli. These behavioral parameters have been exploited to study the pharmacology and modulation of neuropathic pain. Nerve fibers develop abnormal ectopic excitability at or near the site of nerve injury. The mechanisms include unusual distributions of Na(+) channels, as well as abnormal responses to endogenous pain producing substances and cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). Persistent abnormal excitability of sensory nerve endings in a neuroma is considered a mechanism of stump pain after amputation. Any local nerve injury tends to spread to distant parts of the peripheral and central nervous system. This includes erratic mechano-sensitivity along the injured nerve including the cell bodies in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) as well as ongoing activity in the dorsal horn. The spread of pathophysiology includes upregulation of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) in axotomized neurons, deafferentation hypersensitivity of spinal neurons following afferent cell death, long-term potentiation (LTP) of spinal synaptic transmission and attenuation of central pain inhibitory mechanisms. In particular, the efficacy of opioids at the spinal level is much decreased following nerve injury. Repeated or prolonged noxious stimulation and the persistent abnormal input following nerve injury activate a number of intracellular second messenger systems, implying phosphorylation by protein kinases, particularly protein kinase C (PKC). Intracellular signal cascades result in immediate early gene (IEG) induction which is considered as the overture of a widespread change in protein synthesis, a general basis for nervous system plasticity. Although these processes of increasing nervous system excitability may be considered as a strategy to compensate functional deficits following nerve injury, its by-product is widespread nervous system sensitization resulting in pain and hyperalgesia. An important sequela of nerve injury and other nervous system diseases such as virus attack is apoptosis of neurons in the peripheral and central nervous system. Apoptosis seems to induce neuronal sensitization and loss of inhibitory systems, and these irreversible processes might be in common to nervous system damage by brain trauma or ischemia as well as neuropathic pain. The cellular pathobiology including apoptosis suggests future strategies against neuropathic pain that emphasize preventive aspects.
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            Stimulation of the greater occipital nerve induces increased central excitability of dural afferent input.

            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.
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              Peripheral neurostimulation for control of intractable occipital neuralgia.

              Objective. To present a novel approach for treatment of intractable occipital neuralgia using percutaneous peripheral nerve electrostimulation techniques. Methods. Thirteen patients underwent 17 implant procedures for medically refractory occipital neuralgia. A subcutaneous electrode placed transversely at the level of C1 across the base of the occipital nerve trunk produced paresthesias and pain relief covering the regions of occipital nerve pain Results. With follow-up ranging from 1-½ to 6 years, 12 patients continue to report good to excellent response with greater than 50% pain control and requiring little or no additional medications. The 13th patient (first in the series) was subsequently explanted following symptom resolution. Conclusions. In patients with medically intractable occipital neuralgia, peripheral nerve electrostimulation subcutaneously at the level of C1 appears to be a reasonable alternative to more invasive surgical procedures following failure of more conservative therapies.

                Author and article information

                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                20 January 2017
                : 10
                : 229-232
                Department of Neurosurgery, First Affiliated Hospital of PLA General Hospital, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Aijun Liu, Department of Neurosurgery, First Affiliated Hospital of PLA General Hospital, 51 Fucheng Road, Haidian, Beijing 100048, People’s Republic of China, Tel +86 135 2071 9338, Email liuaj719@ 123456yahoo.com
                © 2017 Liu et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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