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Keywords:

  • migraine;
  • aura;
  • headache;
  • functional MRI;
  • cortical spreading depression

Abstract

Migraine sufferers with aura often report photosensitivity and visual discomfort outside of attacks and many consider bright or flickering light an attack-precipitating factor. The nature of this visual hypersensitivity and its relation to the underlying pathophysiology of the migraine aura is unknown. Using fMRI measurements during visual stimulation we examined the visual cortical responsiveness of patients with migraine with aura. We applied a within-patient design by assessing functional interhemispheric differences in patients consistently experiencing visual aura in the same visual hemifield. We recruited 20 patients with frequent side-fixed visual aura attacks (≥90% of auras occurring in the same visual hemifield) and 20 age and sex matched healthy controls and compared the fMRI blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses to visual stimulation between symptomatic and asymptomatic hemispheres during the interictal phase and between migraine patients and controls. BOLD responses were selectively increased in the symptomatic hemispheres. This was found in the inferior parietal lobule (P = 0.002), the inferior frontal gyrus (P = 0.003), and the superior parietal lobule (P = 0.017). The affected cortical areas comprise a visually driven functional network involved in oculomotor control, guidance of movement, motion perception, visual attention, and visual spatial memory. The patients also had significantly increased response in the same cortical areas when compared to controls (P < 0.05). We discovered a lateralized alteration of a visually driven functional network in patients with side-fixed aura. These findings suggest a hyperexcitability of the visual system in the interictal phase of migraine with visual aura. Hum Brain Mapp 35:2714–2723, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.