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Dopamine and migraine: biology and clinical implications


Dr Simon Akerman, UCSF—Department of Neurology, Box 0114, 505 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA. Tel. + 1 415 514 9748, fax + 1 415 514 9751, e-mail


In the last 30 years dopamine has been considered as playing a role in the pathogenesis of migraine. The literature indicates that migraineurs are hypersensitive to dopamine agonists with respect to some of the premonitory symptoms of migraine such as nausea and yawning. There are various non-specific dopamine D2 receptor antagonists that show good clinical efficacy in migraine, and also a number of polymorphisms of dopaminergic genes related to migraine. Animal studies have also shown that dopamine receptors are present in the trigeminovascular system, the area believed to be involved in headache pain, and neuronal firing here is reduced by dopamine agonists. There appears to be little effect of dopamine on peripheral trigeminal afferents. We assess some of the limitations of the clinical studies with regard to the therapeutics, and those found in the studies that discovered differences in genetic polymorphisms in migraine, and consider the implications of this on a dopaminergic hypothesis of migraine.