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Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 Jun;39(6):2651-2663. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24030. Epub 2018 Mar 2.

Deep in the brain: Changes in subcortical function immediately preceding a migraine attack.

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Department of Anatomy and Histology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia.
School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
UCLA School of Nursing and Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, California, 90095.


The neural mechanism responsible for migraine remains unclear. While the role of an external trigger in migraine initiation remains vigorously debated, it is generally assumed that migraineurs display altered brain function between attacks. This idea stems from relatively few brain imaging studies with even fewer studies exploring changes in the 24 h period immediately prior to a migraine attack. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured infra-slow oscillatory activity, regional homogeneity, and connectivity strengths of resting activity in migraineurs directly before (n = 8), after (n = 11), and between migraine attacks (n = 26) and in healthy control subjects (n = 78). Comparisons between controls and each migraine group and between migraine groups were made for each of these measures. Directly prior to a migraine, increased infra-slow oscillatory activity occurred in brainstem and hypothalamic regions that also display altered activity during a migraine itself, that is, the spinal trigeminal nucleus, dorsal pons, and hypothalamus. Furthermore, these midbrain and hypothalamic sites displayed increased connectivity strengths and regional homogeneity directly prior to a migraine. Remarkably, these resting oscillatory and connectivity changes did not occur directly after or between migraine attacks and were significantly different to control subjects. These data provide evidence of altered brainstem and hypothalamic function in the period immediately before a migraine and raise the prospect that such changes contribute to the expression of a migraine attack.


hypothalamus; infra-slow oscillations; periaqueductal gray matter; spinal trigeminal nucleus

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