The role of opioid peptides in modulating the nervous system adaptability has been demonstrated recently; proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-related peptides, in particular, serve in pain perception, in adaptation to stress, and in modulating higher brain functions. Primary headaches, besides pain, involve neuroendocrine/autonomic/adaptive processes as well as mood and personality factors. The view that primary headaches can be taken as a possible model of POMC-related peptides dysfunction led us to evaluate the resting plasma and CSF peptide levels and their plasma changes in response to various stimuli affecting their release. The data obtained from basal and dynamic studies agree with the concept that primary headaches are sustained by opioid system disturbance. In particular the reduced release of endogenous opioids by anterior pituitary in response to physical, endocrine or pharmacological stimuli agrees with a weak adaptive ability of headache sufferers. This impairment of endorphin responsiveness could play a key role in headache susceptibility to environmental stimuli. Primary headaches constitute a wide, intriguing field, including several subgroups bordering on "ischemic" and behavioral/affective disorders. The development of neuroendocrine techniques could be a useful means for supporting the clinical criteria identifying subpopulations of headache sufferers.
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