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Unexpected discovery leads to better understanding of migraine

Faithful artistic representation of Migraine with Aura episode. Colorful zig-zag lines flash in the corner of an eye, while the tunnel vision makes most of the view obscured. Migraine with aura is usually painless, though in large majority of cases means the real migraine is about to kick in. (Photo: Getty Images)

An international study led by University of Utah Health scientists report that massive “plumes” of glutamate, a key neurotransmitter, surging in the brain could help explain the onset of migraine.

The study, which was conducted in laboratory mice, found that an abnormal release of glutamate into the extra-cellular space—the area between brain cells—can spark spreading depolarizations, tsunami-like waves of activity that spread across the brain in migraine and other nervous system disorders, a press release stated.

K.C. Brennan, M.D. a U of U Health professor of neurology and the study’s co-corresponding author (with Dr. Daniela Pietrobon of the University of Padova in Italy), said in a prepared statement:

This is something new under the sun. Glutamate plumes are a completely new mechanism of migraine, and it’s a good bet that they are players in other diseases of the nervous system.

In addition to U of U Health and Padova scientists, researchers from the University of New Mexico and the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Italy contributed to the study.

Glutamate is an essential neurotransmitter that is released as a signal between nerve cells. But too much glutamate can overexcite cells and damage them, so the brain has evolved ways to limit its effects, the news release stated.


2News did not commission this study or confirm its findings.