Meningeal Contribution to Migraine Pain

A Magnetic Resonance Angiography Study

Sabrina Khan; Faisal Mohammad Amin; Casper Emil Christensen; Hashmat Ghanizada; Samaira Younis; Anne Christine Rye Olinger; Patrick J. H. de Koning; Henrik B. W. Larsson; Messoud Ashina


Brain. 2019;142(1):93-102. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The origin of migraine pain is unknown but possibly implicates the dura mater, which is pain sensitive in proximity to the meningeal arteries. Therefore, subtle changes in vessel calibre on the head pain side could reflect activation of dural perivascular nociceptors that leads to migraine headache. To test this hypothesis, we measured circumference changes of cranial arteries in patients with cilostazol-induced unilateral migraine without aura using 3 T high resolution magnetic resonance angiography. The middle meningeal artery was of key interest, as it is the main supply of the dura mater. We also measured the superficial temporal and external carotid arteries as additional extracranial segments, and the middle cerebral, the cerebral and cavernous parts of the internal carotid (ICAcerebral and ICAcavernous), and the basilar arteries as intracranial arterial segments. Magnetic resonance angiography scans were performed at baseline, migraine onset, after sumatriptan, and ≥27 h after migraine onset. Thirty patients underwent magnetic resonance angiography scans, of which 26 patients developed unilateral attacks of migraine without aura and were included in the final analysis. Eleven patients treated their migraine with sumatriptan while the remaining 15 patients did not treat their attacks with analgesics or triptans. At migraine onset, only the middle meningeal artery exhibited greater circumference increase on the pain side (0.24 ± 0.37 mm) compared to the non-pain side (0.06 ± 0.38 mm) (P = 0.002). None of the remaining arteries revealed any pain-side specific changes in circumference (P > 0.05), but exhibited bilateral dilation. Sumatriptan constricted all extracerebral arteries (P < 0.05). In the late phase of migraine, we found sustained bilateral dilation of the middle meningeal artery. In conclusion, onset of migraine is associated with increase in middle meningeal artery circumference specific to the head pain side. Our findings suggest that vasodilation of the middle meningeal artery may be a surrogate marker for activation of dural perivascular nociceptors, indicating a meningeal site of migraine headache.


Migraine is a highly prevalent neurological disorder, ranked as the third highest cause of disability under age 50 and affecting some one billion people globally (Steiner et al., 2016). Migraine is generally considered a neurovascular headache with intricate pathophysiological connections between deep brain structures and the trigeminal pain pathways (Olesen et al., 2009). While the brain is largely insensate, stimulation of dura mater near its arteries in humans produces pain that resembles migraine headache as well as migraine-like associated symptoms of nausea and photophobia (Penfield and McNaughton, 1940; Ray and Wolff, 1940). In conjunction with this finding, preclinical models have further suggested that activation of trigeminal nerve fibres innervating the dura mater may play a key role in migraine pain. This concept is based on assays that have demonstrated that stimulating the dura mater or trigeminal ganglion with inflammatory, chemical or electrical mediators results in plasma protein extravasation, mast cell degranulation, and dilation of meningeal blood vessels (Markowitz et al., 1987; Buzzi and Moskowitz, 1990; Buzzi et al., 1991; Dimitriadou et al., 1991; Kurosawa et al., 1995; Strassman et al., 1996; Levy et al., 2007). These physiological responses are mediated by neuropeptides, including vasoactive calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), released from activated trigeminal sensory neurons (Goadsby et al., 1988; Zagami et al., 1990). Further, Bolay and colleagues (2002) suggested that cortical spreading depression might also activate meningeal nociceptors by causing a persistent dural vasodilation and plasma protein extravasation. Interestingly, preclinical models have also demonstrated that acute and preventive migraine treatment can modulate the activation of dural trigeminal afferents. Notably, sumatriptan and dihydroergotamine pretreatment reduced plasma protein extravasation (Buzzi and Moskowitz, 1990; Buzzi et al., 1991), a CGRP-antagonist and sumatriptan treatment blocked the increase in meningeal blood flow (Kurosawa et al., 1995; Williamson et al., 1997), and topiramate attenuated dural vasodilation (Akerman and Goadsby, 2005).

In the absence of directly measuring trigeminal activation within the dura mater in humans, we can measure vasodilation as a constituent of the physiological response to trigeminal activation. Here, the middle meningeal artery (MMA) is of particular interest as it is the major blood supply of the dura, richly innervated by trigeminal sensory afferents (Mayberg et al., 1984). Even subtle changes in MMA calibre during migraine attacks could indicate release of vasoactive peptides from activated dural trigeminal nerve endings, ultimately initiating the pain pathway of migraine (Jacobs and Dussor, 2016).

In the present study, we applied high resolution 3 T magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) to investigate the early circumference change of cranial arteries in unilateral attacks of migraine without aura. We propose that any changes in circumference can be considered a surrogate marker for activation of dural trigeminal perivascular nociceptors. We used the highly effective phosphodiesterase-3-inhibitor cilostazol as an experimental migraine trigger (Guo et al., 2014). We hypothesized that during unilateral attacks of migraine without aura, intra- and extracranial arteries exhibit ipsilateral dilation, reflecting activation of perivascular nociceptors. Also, we hypothesized that therapeutic use of the selective migraine abortive drug, sumatriptan, a 5-hydroxytryptamine agonist, would reverse this activation.