Migraine is one of the most widespread diseases in Germany and usually means unbearable pain for those affected. A new study has come to previously unknown findings.

Lasting changes: Migraines don’t just manifest themselves in repeated headache attacks – they also manifest themselves in the brain, as high-resolution brain scans have now revealed. Accordingly, migraine patients have noticeably enlarged cavities around the blood vessels of certain brain regions.

Microlesions caused by tiny leaks in the blood vessels are also more common among them. This could indicate a disorder of the neuronal lymphatic system in migraine sufferers, as researchers report.

Headache attacks, sensitivity to light, nausea: Around ten percent of people in Germany suffer from migraines. But what triggers this disease, which is only partially genetic, and how it manifests itself in the brain is only partially understood.

However, it seems clear that a migraine does not only manifest itself during the headache attacks: Migraine sufferers also show abnormalities in their brain activity, the anatomy of the cerebral cortex and certain membrane lipids in the blood.

Researchers led by Wilson Xu from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have now discovered another migraine characteristic. For their study, they subjected ten people with chronic migraine, ten with episodic migraine attacks and five healthy controls to high-resolution brain scans.

During this magnetic resonance tomography (MRT), she paid particular attention to the smallest changes in the area around the blood vessels in the brain.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to use ultra-high-resolution MRI to look for such microvascular changes in the brains of migraine sufferers,” explains Xu.

It has long been suspected that migraine attacks affect the blood flow to the brain and thus trigger the pain. Xu and his colleagues now wanted to find out whether changes could also be identified apart from the acute seizures.

In fact, the team found what they were looking for: “In people with chronic and episodic migraines, there are significant changes in the perivascular spaces,” reports Xu.

These are fluid-filled channels that surround the cerebral blood vessels and play a role in draining the lymph. If they are dilated, this can be an indication of a pathological change or inflammation of the vessels.

As the analyzes showed, the perivascular spaces in the migraine patients were enlarged, especially in the so-called centrum semiovale. This brain region between the cortex and the central ventricles of the brain consists mainly of the white matter, which consists of nerve endings.

In this crescent-shaped area, which is present in both hemispheres of the brain, the scientists also found an increased number of tiny, compressed areas and microlesions caused by the smallest leaks in the blood capillaries.

According to Xu and his team, these changes could indicate that migraines are linked to a fundamental disruption of the glymphatic system – the system of tubules, cavities and ducts that flush waste products out of the brain.

“The perivascular spaces are part of the drainage system in our brain,” explains Xu. “If we take a closer look at how they contribute to migraines, it could help unravel the complex mechanisms behind migraines.”

So far, however, it is still unclear whether the changes observed are a consequence of the migraine or perhaps part of the cause. The scientists hope to be able to clarify this question with the help of studies with larger numbers of participants and longer study durations. (Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America 2022)

Quelle: Radiological Society of North America

This article was written by Nadja Podbregar

The original of this article “Migraine permanently changes our brain” comes from scinexx.