MRI Detects Brain Abnormalities in Migraine Patients

March 26, 2013

Brain MRIs migraine sufferers reveal abnormalities in cortical thickness and some surface area. These measurements could improve understanding of migraines.

Magnetic resonance imaging of brains of patients with migraines reveals abnormalities in cortical thickness and some surface area, according to a study published online in the journal Radiology.

Italian researchers used MRI to acquire T2-weighted and 3-D T1-weighted brain images from 81 subjects - 63 patients who had migraines and 18 healthy controls -to assess cortical thickness and surface area abnormalities in patients with migraine. These are two components of cortical volume that provide different and complementary pieces of information, Massimo Filippi, MD, said in a release. Filippi is the director of the Neuroimaging Research Unit at the University Ospedale San Raffaele and professor of neurology at the University Vita-Salute’s San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan.

The study’s findings showed that, compared with the controls, patients with migraines had reduced cortical thickness and surface area in regions of the brain that are related to pain processing. There was only a minimal overlap of cortical thickness and cortical surface area abnormalities, with cortical surface area abnormalities being more pronounced and distributed than cortical thickness abnormalities.

Aura and white matter hyperintensities - areas of high intensity on MRI that appear to be most common among migraineurs - was related to the regional distribution of cortical thickness and surface area abnormalities, but not to disease duration and attack frequency.

The study authors acknowledged that more research is required to further understand these findings, but Filippi said, “Accurate measurements of cortical thickness abnormalities could help characterize migraine patients better and improve understanding of the pathophysiological processes underlying the condition.”

Researchers are continuing a longitudinal study of the patient group to assess the stability of the cortical abnormalities, as well as the effects of treatments on the observed modifications of cortical folding. They are also looking at children who have migraines, to see if the abnormalities could be a biomarker.