Migraine and the hypothalamus


Karl B. Alstadhaug MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, Prinsensgt 164, Nordlandssykehuset Bodø, 8011 Bodø, Norway. E-mail alstadhaug@operamail.com


Migraine is a complex brain disorder where several neuronal pathways and neurotransmitters are involved in the pathophysiology. To search for a specific anatomical or physiological defect in migraine may be futile, but the hypothalamus, with its widespread connections with other parts of the central nervous system and its paramount control of the hypophysis and the autonomic nervous system, is a suspected locus in quo. Several lines of evidence support involvement of this small brain structure in migraine. However, whether it plays a major or minor role is unclear. The most convincing support for a pivotal role so far is the activation of the hypothalamus shown by positron emission tomography (PET) scanning during spontaneous migraine attacks. A well-known theory is that the joint effect of several triggers may cause temporary hypothalamic dysfunction, resulting in a migraine attack. If PET scanning had consistently confirmed hypothalamic activation prior to migraine headache, this hypothesis would have been supported. However, such evidence has not been provided, and the role of the hypothalamus in migraine remains puzzling. This review summarizes and discusses some of the clues.