Background and purpose: It has been generally thought that activation and sensitization of the trigeminovascular system may contribute to the pathogenesis of migraine. Nevertheless, there is little evidence on abnormalities in peripheral trigeminal afferent nerves from humans in vivo. Alterations of corneal nerves from the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve may support the notion that trigeminal afferent nerves are involved in migraine pathophysiology. The aim of the present study was to investigate the structural changes in corneal subbasal nerve plexus in patients with episodic migraine (EM) with in vivo confocal microscope (IVCM).
Methods: In this cross-sectional observational study, 10 EM patients and 10 age- and sex-matched healthy controls were included. Analysis of IVCM images with Image J software was performed to quantify the changes in the corneal subbasal nerve plexus.
Results: EM patients showed an increase in nerve fiber length (25.0±2.65 vs 22.3±2.41 mm/mm 2, p=0.047) and nerve fiber density (36.3±7.29 vs 30.5±6.19 fibers/mm 2, p=0.104) as compared with normal controls, but this difference was not statistically significant. Nerve branching and tortuosity were significantly increased in the EM subjects compared to the normal subjects (91.3±13.8 vs 75.0±14.2 branches/mm 2, p=0.030 and 2.30±0.46 versus 1.63±0.52, p=0.011, respectively). In addition, nerve sprouts and increased number of Langerhans cells were observed in the EM patients.
Conclusion: The morphologic changes of corneal subbasal nerve plexus and Langerhans cell aggregation suggest the presence of nerve regeneration and inflammation in EM. Furthermore, the alterations of corneal nerves from the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve offer support for the hypothesis that the peripheral trigeminal system may be involved in the pathogenesis of migraine.