It has long been known that nitrate and nitrite medications consistently cause significant headache as a side effect. Classical research has shown that cerebral vasodilation accompanies the use of these medications. More modern studies suggest that these vasodilators exert their action on blood vessels via nitric oxide and its second messenger, cyclic guanosine monophosphate. This paper reviews research studies and theoretical articles which address the concept that nitric oxide plays a major role in the vasodilation associated with the headache phase of migraine with aura. A brief discussion of nitric oxide biochemistry and pharmacology follows.
In addition, there is a review of evidence examining the possible contributions of nitric oxide to the neurogenic and vascular events associated with spreading cortical depression, an animal model of migraine aura. The paradoxical hypotheses that nitric oxide may contribute to both the propagation of spreading cortical depression and its limitation are presented. Finally, a rationale for the experimental use of nitric oxide agonists and antagonists in the abortion of migraine aura is introduced.