Changes in Plasma Methionine-Enkephalin Levels Associated With a Cluster Headache Episode

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Eighteen male cluster headache (CH) inpatients within a CH series participated in this research. Blood samples were drawn from patients at least 6-hour pain-free after the last acute CH episode and then shortly prior (SP), during, and soon after (SA) a new acute CH attack. Three healthy male, age-comparable drug-free volunteers served as controls; 5 samples were obtained from each of these individual over a 24-hour period. Individual patient’s methionine-enkephalin (MET) plasma concentration showed significant changes, and in some subjects, dramatic changes, during the different phases of a single CH episode. Peptide levels followed a general pattern of higher plasma concentration SP to an acute CH attack, followed by decreased levels during the attack itself, and falling even further SA the acute episode. Consistently, 16 of the 18 patients tested showed pre-CH peptide levels significantly higher (arbitrarily the authors considered values 20% or more as “significant”) than their own values obtained during the acute CH pain phase, with observed differences reaching 80% or more in 7 of these individuals. For about half of these patients, peptide concentration during the acute CH episode was significantly above the control’s range (68.2–87.6 pg MET/mL; control's circulating MET concentration remaining essentially unchanged during a 24-hour period). MET levels were further decreased in essentially all of the post-CH samples, with values falling within (n = 6) or even further below than those in the control’s range (n = 11). Neither age, time of CH occurrence, nor patient’s use of a number of medications known for failing to influence plasma MET degradation kinetics seemed to significantly influence MET levels. These results might help in the biochemical characterization of the actual phases of a CH episode. Developing drugs modulating MET bioavailability could lead to novel antinociceptive agents useful for the treatment of CH’s associated pain.

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