What is the role of brainstem activation in the pathogenesis of migraine headaches?

Updated: Oct 21, 2019
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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PET scanning in patients having an acute migraine headache demonstrates activation of the contralateral pons, even after medications abort the pain. Weiler et al proposed that brainstem activation may be the initiating factor of migraine.

Once the CSD occurs on the surface of the brain, H+ and K+ ions diffuse to the pia mater and activate C-fiber meningeal nociceptors, releasing a proinflammatory soup of neurochemicals (eg, calcitonin gene–related peptide) and causing plasma extravasation to occur. Therefore, a sterile, neurogenic inflammation of the trigeminovascular complex is present.

Once the trigeminal system is activated, it stimulates the cranial vessels to dilate. The final common pathway to the throbbing headache is the dilatation of blood vessels.

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