• headache;
  • positron emission tomography;
  • magnetic resonance imaging;
  • premonitory;
  • aura;
  • postdrome

A migraine attack is an extraordinarily complex brain event that takes place over hours to days. This review focuses on recent human studies that shed light on the evolution of a migraine attack. It begins with a constellation of premonitory symptoms that are associated with activation of the hypothalamus and may involve the neurotransmitter dopamine. Even in the premonitory phase, patients experience sensitivity to sensory stimuli, indicating that central sensitization is a primary phenomenon. The migraine attack progresses to a phase that in some patients includes aura, which involves changes in cortical function, blood flow, and neurovascular coupling. The aura phase overlaps with the headache phase, which is associated with further changes in blood flow and function of the brainstem, thalamus, hypothalamus, and cortex. Serotonin receptors, nitric oxide, calcitonin gene-related peptide, pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide, and prostanoids are demonstrated specific chemical mediators of migraine based on therapeutic and triggered migraine studies. A number of migraine symptoms persist beyond resolution of headache into a postdromal phase, accompanied by persistent blood flow changes in several brain regions. Although these phases of migraine have substantial temporal, neurochemical, and anatomical overlap, each represents an important window onto the pathophysiology of migraine as well as a target for therapeutic intervention. A comprehensive approach to migraine requires an understanding of the entire range of mechanisms and resultant symptoms that occur throughout the evolution of an attack.