Montelukast in the Prophylaxis of Migraine: A Potential Role for Leukotriene Modifiers


Address all correspondence to Dr. Fred Sheftell, New England Center for Headache, 778 Long Ridge Road, Stamford, CT 06902.


Objective.–Clinical observation of a decrease in migraine frequency in patients with comorbid asthma taking montelukast, a specific D4 leukotriene receptor antagonist, or zafirlukast, another leukotriene receptor antagonist, prompted us to explore a possible role for leukotriene modifiers in the treatment of migraine. (A further prompt was a pharmacist colleague's observation that a number of patients on these agents reported a decreased sensitivity to perfume triggers and improvement in migraine.)

Background.–Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents have been used widely in the treatment of migraine. Another class of anti-inflammatory agents, known as leukotriene modifiers, have not been studied to date with regard to their possible role in the treatment of migraine. The name “leukotriene” is derived both from the parent molecule, which was originally isolated from leukocytes, and from its three double-bond carbon backbone or triene structure. Both prostaglandins and leukotrienes are derived from the metabolism of arachidonic acid, with prostaglandins coming off the cyclooxygenase pathway and leukotrienes derived via the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase. Both prostaglandins and leukotrienes mediate inflammatory responses. The latter have been studied with regard to their role in the pathophysiology of asthma.

Methods.–A prospective, open-label study evaluating the efficacy of montelukast, 10 mg or 20 mg, in the prophylaxis of migraine in 17 patients is presented in this paper. All 17 patients completed the study that consisted of a 2-month baseline run-in period and a 3-month treatment phase.

Results.–Montelukast was extremely well tolerated, and no adverse events were reported by any of the patients. Fifty-three percent showed a reduction of greater than 50% (P<.025) in the frequency of severe attacks, with 41% showing a reduction of greater than 60%. Responders, including modest responders, rated the drug as excellent.

Conclusions.–We conclude, given the limitations of an open-label study design and the small sample size, that montelukast shows potential as an effective, well-tolerated prophylactic agent in migraine. Double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies are warranted. In addition, the leukotrienes, as suggested previously in the literature, may play a role in the pathogenesis of migraine.