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Altered brainstem anatomy in migraine.

  • Author(s): Marciszewski, Kasia K
  • Meylakh, Noemi
  • Di Pietro, Flavia
  • Macefield, Vaughan G
  • Macey, Paul M
  • Henderson, Luke A
  • et al.

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Background The exact mechanisms responsible for migraine remain unknown, although it has been proposed that changes in brainstem anatomy and function, even between attacks, may contribute to the initiation and maintenance of headache during migraine attacks. The aim of this investigation is to use brainstem-specific analyses of anatomical and diffusion weighted images to determine if the trigeminal system displays altered structure in individuals with migraine. Methods Voxel-based morphometry of T1-weighted anatomical images (57 controls, 24 migraineurs) and diffusion tensor images (22 controls, 24 migraineurs) were used to assess brainstem anatomy in individuals with migraine compared with controls. Results We found grey matter volume decreases in migraineurs in the spinal trigeminal nucleus and dorsomedial pons. In addition, reduced grey matter volume and increased free water diffusivity occurred in areas of the descending pain modulatory system, including midbrain periaqueductal gray matter, dorsolateral pons, and medullary raphe. These changes were not correlated to migraine frequency, duration, intensity or time to next migraine. Conclusion Brainstem anatomy changes may underlie changes in activity that result in activation of the ascending trigeminal pathway and the perception of head pain during a migraine attack.

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