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Several lines of evidence suggest a major role of the trigeminovascular system in the pathogenesis of migraine. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we compared brain responses during trigeminal pain processing in migraine patients with those of healthy control subjects. The main finding is that the activity of the spinal trigeminal nuclei in response to nociceptive stimulation showed a cycling behavior over the migraine interval. Although interictal (i.e., outside of attack) migraine patients revealed lower activations in the spinal trigeminal nuclei compared with controls, preictal (i.e., shortly before attack) patients showed activity similar to controls, which demonstrates that the trigeminal activation level increases over the pain-free migraine interval. Remarkably, the distance to the next headache attack was predictable by the height of the signal intensities in the spinal nuclei. Migraine patients scanned during the acute spontaneous migraine attack showed significantly lower signal intensities in the trigeminal nuclei compared with controls, demonstrating activity levels similar to interictal patients. Additionally we found-for the first time using fMRI-that migraineurs showed a significant increase in activation of dorsal parts of the pons, previously coined "migraine generator." Unlike the dorsal pons activation usually linked to migraine attacks, the gradient-like activity following nociceptive stimulation in the spinal trigeminal neurons likely reflects a raise in susceptibility of the brain to generate the next attack, as these areas increase their activity long before headache starts. This oscillating behavior may be a key player in the generation of migraine headache, whereas attack-specific pons activations are most likely a secondary event.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





1937 - 1943


Adult, Analysis of Variance, Brain Mapping, Case-Control Studies, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Migraine Disorders, Oxygen, Physical Stimulation, Reaction Time, Regression Analysis, Trigeminal Nerve, Trigeminal Nuclei, Young Adult