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Cephalalgia. 2013 Jan;33(1):5-19. doi: 10.1177/0333102412462640. Epub 2012 Nov 12.

The locus of flicker adaptation in the migraine visual system: a dichoptic study.

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  • 1Centre for Vision Research, York University, Canada.



Flickering light has been shown to sensitize the migraine visual system at high stimulus contrast while elevating thresholds at low contrast. The present study employs a dichoptic psychophysical paradigm to ask whether the abnormal adaptation to flicker in migraine occurs before or after the binocular combination of inputs from the two eyes in the visual cortex.


Following adaptation to high contrast flicker presented to one eye only, flicker contrast increment thresholds were measured in each eye separately using dichoptic viewing.


Modest interocular transfer of adaptation was seen in both migraine and control groups at low contrast. Sensitization at high contrast in migraine relative to control participants was seen in the adapted eye only, and an unanticipated threshold elevation occurred in the non-adapted eye. Migraineurs also showed significantly lower aversion thresholds to full field flicker than control participants, but aversion scores and increment thresholds were not correlated.


The results are simulated with a three-stage neural model of adaptation that points to strong adaptation at monocular sites prior to binocular combination, and weaker adaptation at the level of cortical binocular neurons. The sensitization at high contrast in migraine is proposed to result from stronger adaptation of inhibitory neurons, which act as a monocular normalization pool.

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