What is the role of cortical spreading depression (CSD) in the pathogenesis of migraine headache with aura?

Updated: Oct 01, 2021
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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In 1944, Leao proposed the theory of cortical spreading depression (CSD) to explain the mechanism of migraine with aura. CSD is a well-defined wave of neuronal excitation in the cortical gray matter that spreads from its site of origin at the rate of 2-6 mm/min.

This cellular depolarization causes the primary cortical phenomenon or aura phase; in turn, it activates trigeminal fibers, causing the headache phase. The neurochemical basis of the CSD is the release of potassium or the excitatory amino acid glutamate from neural tissue. This release depolarizes the adjacent tissue, which, in turn, releases more neurotransmitters, propagating the spreading depression.

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