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Do Migraines Begin Deep in The Brain?

If you suffer from migraines, you’re more likely to want to know how to stop them rather than where they begin, but this latest research by King’s College, London gives hope that finding their origin will lead to new, successful treatments. By blocking just a single neurotransmitter, scientists may be able to stop the firing of the nerves that are believed to cause migraines.

As part of their research, the team examined the effects of two vasodilators (medicines that increase blood flow by causing widening of the blood vessels) on specific receptors in the brain cells of rats. They found that by administering one of these vasodilators directly into the brain, a cluster of neurons began to fire more than normal, imitating the symptoms of a migraine. The researchers then used electrodes to measure this firing in the part of the brain known as the trigeminovascular system. They then tried injecting a compound directly into this part of the brain, which reduced the amount of times the trigeminovascular nerve fired. Furthermore, the researchers didn’t find any evidence that the ‘throbbing sensation’ felt by some migraine sufferers was as a result of changes in activity in the blood vessels, particularly as the compound that blocked the receptors was also able to block pain signals. The other vasodilator didn’t have any notable effects on the brain and didn’t activate the same receptors.

the study has given insight into how a migraine starts, a treatment based on the findings is still very much in the future

Co-author of the study, Peter Goadsby, explained that in order to understand what’s going on when you have a migraine, you need to have an understanding of the chemicals used by the brain to transmit the signal that causes the headache. While this study has given us greater insight into how a migraine starts, a treatment based on the findings is still very much in the future and, while our brains are very similar to rat brains, this treatment may not work for humans in the same way as it does for rats. What’s more, as the compounds were administered directly into the rats’ brains via small tubes in the skull, it’s not practical to replicate this procedure in humans. It would be necessary to develop a drug that was able to pass from the bloodstream through the blood brain barrier into the brain, although this isn’t impossible as many psychoactive drugs are currently able to do this.

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