As someone who suffers from migraines since childhood, I’m always on the lookout for any recent developments in the study of migraines. I came across this study that suggests there may be alterations in dopamine transmission during a migraine. By using PET scans, the researchers compared dopaminergic activity between 8 migraine sufferers and 8 healthy control subjects.
Interestingly, the researchers showed that during migraines, dopamine levels tended to fall compared to healthy controls. However, when the patients with migraines were between headaches, dopamine levels were not significantly different. In addition, when the migraine sufferers were recovering from the migraines, researchers applied warmth to their foreheads and noticed a spike in dopamine and worsening of their symptoms. This presentation is strikingly similar to those suffering from allodynia. According to the authors, the reduction in dopamine could also explain the isolation and avoidance that many migraine sufferers seek during episodes.
I thought this was an interesting paper because it looked at the brain in vivo. However, the biggest drawback to this study is how underpowered it was. The sample size was only 8 patients. Migraine sufferers come in many different types–it would be interesting to see if these results hold up when examining a much larger cohort of patients.
Since the current cocktail of treatments available for migraines do not directly target the dopaminergic systems, this study may point us to new therapies for migraines. Since it appears that dopamine levels fluctuate, this suggests that the timing of these future therapies may be critical!