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Current theories propose that the primary dysfunction in migraine occurs within the CNS and that this evokes changes in blood vessels within pain-producing intracranial meningeal structures that give rise to headache pain. Migraine is now thought of as a neurovascular disorder. It has been proposed that genetic abnormalities may be responsible for altering the response threshold to migraine specific trigger factors in the brain of a migraineur compared to a normal individual. The exact nature of the central dysfunction that is produced in migraineurs is still not clear and may involve spreading depression-like phenomena and activation of brain stem monoaminergic nuclei that are part of the central autonomic, vascular and pain control centers. It is generally thought that local vasodilatation of intracranial extracerebral blood vessels and a consequent stimulation of surrounding trigeminal sensory nervous pain pathways is a key mechanism underlying the generation of headache pain associated with migraine. This activation of the 'trigeminovascular system' is thought to cause the release of vasoactive sensory neuropeptides, especially CGRP, that increase the pain response. The activated trigeminal nerves convey nociceptive information to central neurons in the brain stem trigeminal sensory nuclei that in turn relay the pain signals to higher centers where headache pain is perceived. It has been hypothesized that these central neurons may become sensitized as a migraine attack progresses. The 'triptan' anti-migraine agents (e.g. sumatriptan, rizatriptan, zolmitriptan naratriptan) are serotonergic agonists that have been shown to act selectively by causing vasoconstriction through 5-HT1B receptors that are expressed in human intracranial arteries and by inhibiting nociceptive transmission through an action at 5-HT1D receptors on peripheral trigeminal sensory nerve terminals in the meninges and central terminals in brain stem sensory nuclei. These three complementary sites of action underlie the clinical effectiveness of the 5-HT1B/1D agonists against migraine headache pain and its associated symptoms.


R J Hargreaves, S L Shepheard. Pathophysiology of migraine--new insights. The Canadian journal of neurological sciences. Le journal canadien des sciences neurologiques. 1999 Nov;26 Suppl 3:S12-9

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PMID: 10563228

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