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Spreading Depolarization May Link Migraine and Stroke


  • Katharina Eikermann-Haerter MD

    Corresponding author
    1. Neurovascular Research Laboratory, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA, USA
    • Address all correspondence to K. Eikermann-Haerter, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA, email:

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  • Conflict of Interest: None


Migraine increases the risk of stroke, particularly in young and otherwise healthy adults. Being the most frequent neurological condition, migraine prevalence is on a par with that of other common stroke risk factors, such as diabetes or hypertension. Several patterns of association have emerged: (1) migraine and stroke share a common association (eg, vasculopathies, patent foramen ovale, or pulmonary A-V malformations); (2) injury to the arterial wall such as acute arterial dissections can present as migraine aura attacks or stroke; (3) strokes rarely develop during a migraine attack, as described for “migrainous stroke.” Increasing experimental evidence suggests that cerebral hyperexcitability and enhanced susceptibility to spreading depolarization, the electrophysiologic event underlying migraine, may serve as a mechanism underlying the migraine-stroke association. Mice carrying human vascular or neuronal migraine mutations exhibit an enhanced susceptibility to spreading depolarization while being particularly vulnerable to cerebral ischemia. The severe stroke phenotype in migraine mutant mice can be prevented by suppressing spreading depolarization. If confirmed in the clinical setting, inhibiting spreading depolarization might protect migraineurs at stroke risk as well as decrease attacks of migraine.

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