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Papers: 12 Dec 2020 - 18 Dec 2020

Human Studies


2020 Dec 10


Trigeminal neurovascular contact in SUNCT and SUNA: a cross-sectional magnetic resonance study.


Lambru G, Rantell K, O'Connor E, Levy A, Davagnanam I, Zrinzo L, Matharu M
Brain. 2020 Dec 10.
PMID: 33301567.


Emerging data points towards a possible aetiological and therapeutic relevance of trigeminal neurovascular contact in short lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT) and perhaps in short lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with cranial autonomic symptoms (SUNA). We aimed to assess the prevalence and significance of trigeminal neurovascular contact in a large cohort of consecutive SUNCT and SUNA patients and evaluate the radiological differences between them. The standard imaging protocol included high spatial and nerve-cistern contrast resolution imaging acquisitions of the cisternal segments of the trigeminal nerves and vessels. MRI studies were evaluated blindly by two expert evaluators and graded according to the presence, location and degree of neurovascular contact. The degree of contact was graded as with or without morphological changes. Neurovascular contact with morphological changes was defined as contact with distortion and/or atrophy. A total of 159 patients (SUNCT = 80; SUNA = 79) were included. A total of 165 symptomatic and 153 asymptomatic trigeminal nerves were analysed. The proportion of neurovascular contact on the symptomatic trigeminal nerves was higher (80.0%) compared to the asymptomatic trigeminal nerves (56.9%). The odds on having neurovascular contact over the symptomatic nerves was significantly higher than on the asymptomatic nerves [odds ratio (OR): 3.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.84-4.99; P < 0.0001]. Neurovascular contact with morphological changes were considerably more prevalent on the symptomatic side (61.4%), compared to the asymptomatic side (31.0%) (OR 4.16, 95% CI 2.46-7.05; P < 0.0001). On symptomatic nerves, neurovascular contact with morphological changes was caused by an artery in 95.0% (n = 77/81). Moreover, the site of contact and the point of contact around the trigeminal root were respectively proximal in 82.7% (67/81) and superior in 59.3% (48/81). No significant radiological differences emerged between SUNCT and SUNA. The multivariate analysis of radiological predictors associated with the symptomatic side, indicated that the presence of neurovascular contact with morphological changes was strongly associated with the side of the pain (OR: 2.80, 95% CI 1.44-5.44; P = 0.002) even when adjusted for diagnoses. Our findings suggest that neurovascular contact with morphological changes is involved in the aetiology of SUNCT and SUNA. Along with a similar clinical phenotype, SUNCT and SUNA also display a similar structural neuroimaging profile, providing further support for the concept that the separation between them should be abandoned. Furthermore, these findings suggest that vascular compression of the trigeminal sensory root, may be a common aetiological factor between SUNCT, SUNA and trigeminal neuralgia thereby further expanding the overlap between these disorders.