Impaired paired associative stimulation (PAS)-induced long-term synaptic plasticity characterizes migraine without aura patients between attacks. We suggest that the malfunctioning in PAS-induced effects in migraine reflects low cortical preactivation, which prevents short-term and longer-term changes in cortical synaptic effectiveness.
The period between migraine attacks is characterized by paradoxical responses to repetitive sensory and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Abnormal long-term cortical functional plasticity may play a role and can be assessed experimentally by paired associative stimulation (PAS), in which somatosensory peripheral nerve stimuli are followed by TMS of the motor cortex. Changes in motor-evoked potential (MEP) amplitudes were recorded in 16 migraine without aura patients (MO) and 15 healthy volunteers (HV) before and after PAS, which consisted of 90 peripheral electrical right ulnar nerve stimulations and subsequent TMS pulses over the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle activation site with a delay of 10 ms (excitability depressing) or 25 ms (excitability enhancing). As a control experiment of the 31 subjects studied, 8 (4 MO and 4 HV) also underwent PAS10 earlier, the recording of somatosensory high-frequency oscillations (HFOs) reflecting thalamocortical activation (early HFOs). Although PAS10 reduced MEP amplitudes in HV (−17.7%), it significantly increased amplitudes in MO (+35.9%). Although in HV MEP amplitudes were significantly potentiated (+55.1) after PAS25, only a slight, nonsignificant increase was observed in MO (+18.8%). In the control experiment, performed on 8 subjects pooled together, Pearson's correlation showed an inverse relationship between the percentage of MEP amplitude changes after PAS10 and early HFO amplitudes (r = −0.81; P = .01). Because we observed that the more deficient the long-term PAS-induced change, the more the thalamocortical activation decreased, we hypothesize that the abnormalities in long-term cortical plasticity observed in the interictal period between migraine episodes could be due to altered thalamic control.