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Keywords:

  • 5-HT synthesis;
  • 5-HT1 receptor agonists;
  • migraine headache;
  • raphe nucleus;
  • serotonergic neurotransmission;
  • serotonin transporter;
  • tryptophan hydroxylase

Migraine is the most frequent neurological disorder in the adult population worldwide, affecting up to 12% of the general population and more frequent in women (∼25%). It has a high impact on our society due to its disabling nature and, therein, reduced quality of life and increased absenteeism from work. Headache is the primary clinical manifestation and it has been associated with ‘a hereditary or predisposed sensitivity of neurovascular reactions to certain stimuli or to cyclic changes in the central nervous system’ (1). Amongst the many neurotransmitters in the brain, the serotonergic (serotonin, 5-HT) system from the brainstem raphe nucleus has been most convincingly implicated in migraine pathophysiology. The documented changes in 5-HT metabolism and in the processing of central 5-HT-mediated responses during and in between migraine attacks have led to the suggestion that migraine is a consequence of a central neurochemical imbalance that involves a low serotonergic disposition. Although the exact cascade of events that link abnormal serotonergic neurotransmission to the manifestation of head pain and the accompanying symptoms has yet to be fully understood, recent evidence suggests that a low 5-HT state facilitates activation of the trigeminovascular nociceptive pathway, as induced by cortical spreading depression. In this short review, we present and discuss the original and most recent findings that support a role for altered serotonergic neurotransmission in the manifestation of migraine headache.