Migraine: imaging the aura

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Abstract

We currently conceive of a migraine attack as originating in the brain. Triggers of an attack initiate a depolarizing neuroelectric and metabolic event likened to the spreading depression of Leao. This event activates the headache and associated features of the attack by mechanisms that remain to be determined, but appear to involve either peripheral trigeminovascular or brainstem pathways, or both. The excitability of cell membranes, perhaps partly genetically determined, is the brain's susceptibility to attacks. Factors that increase or decrease neuronal excitability constitute the threshold for triggering attacks. Using a model of visual stress-induced migraine or by studying spontaneous attacks and applying advanced imaging and neurophysiological methods, results have been obtained that support spreading neuronal inhibition as the basis of aura. This neuroelectric event is accompanied by hyperoxia of the brain, possibly associated with vasodilation. Evidence has also been obtained that the spreading cortical event can activate the subcortical centers possibly involved in nociception and associated symptoms of the migraine attack. Susceptibility to migraine attacks appears to be related to brain hyperexcitability. These newer techniques of functional neuroimaging have confirmed the primary neural basis of the migraine attack with secondary vascular changes, reconciling previous theories into a neurovascular mechanism.

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