Brain Imaging in Migraine Research


  • Conflict of Interest: Dr. Hargreaves is a full-time employee of Merck, Inc. Dr. Borsook reports no conflict of interest.

R. Hargreaves, Merck and Co Neuroscience WP42-212, PO Box 4, 770 Sumneytown Pike, West Point, PA 19486, USA.


Understanding the pathophysiology and pharmacology of migraine has been driven by astute clinical observations, elegant experimental medicine studies, and importantly by studying highly effective anti-migraine agents in the laboratory and the clinic. Significant progress has been made in the use of functional brain imaging to compliment observational studies of migraine phenotypes by highlighting pathways within the brain that may be involved in predisposition to migraine, modulating migraine pain or that could be sensitive to pharmacological or behavioral therapeutic intervention (Fig. 1). In drug discovery, molecular imaging approaches compliment functional neuroimaging by visualizing migraine drug targets within the brain. Molecular imaging enables the selection and evaluation of drug candidates by confirming that they engage their targets sufficiently at well tolerated doses to test our therapeutic hypotheses.

Figure 1.—.

Figure 1.—.

Imaging and defining the migraine brain disease state: from anatomy to chemical entities (targets) to functional systems (function and pathways) (from Borsook et al31 with permission, Nature Publishing Group).

Migraine is a progressive disorder. Developing our knowledge of where drugs act in the brain and of how the brain is altered in both episodic migraine (interictal state and ictal state) and chronic migraine are important steps to understanding why there is such differential responsiveness to therapeutics among migraine patients and to improving how they are evaluated and treated.