A new study published in the December issue of the journal, Pain indicates that the protein, brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may be the cause of the hypersensitivity to pain experienced by migraine patients during an attack.
A key to the sensitization process, according to Dr. Greg Dussor, associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, could be related to a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Other studies have shown elevated levels of BDNF in human migraine patients, but its origin and the way it works have not been clear.
Dussor and his colleagues used a drug to, in essence, soak up the BDNF from the brain stem area in rats. The result was that the animals became desensitized to migraines when they were later prompted with stimuli that otherwise would provoke a headache.
‘There’s something that BDNF has done, and potentially is continuing to do, that is keeping migraine patients sensitized to these later events,” he said. “It’s exciting that we can influence that sensitization or priming by manipulating BDNF in an animal model.’
Many scientists believe the pain of migraines originates in the meninges, which are membranes that encase the brain and spinal cord. The theory is that information travels from the meninges through trigeminal neurons into the brain stem, and then into the thalamus and other brain regions where it ultimately is processed as pain.
“There’s a large amount of pain signaling that can come in from the meninges during migraines,” Dussor said.
In a recent study, researchers in Dussor’s lab initially stimulated the meninges in rats with a substance called interleukin 6, which seems to be involved in migraine attacks. Then, 24 hours later, the researchers injected a drug into the brain stem that soaks up the BDNF.
Dussor’s team found that the removal of the BDNF desensitized the animals to subsequent migraines.
“There’s some critical role for BDNF in the brain stem that allows this plastic state to develop and probably also allows it to maintain itself,” Dussor said.
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