MAR 30, 2017 06:11 PM PDT

Dopamine Levels Drop During Migraines

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Migraine headaches are often so severe that they are incapacitating, and the pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound can last for days. While dopamine sensitivity and imbalances have previously been linked to migraines, new research has confirmed that during these devastating headaches, dopamine levels fluctuate and decrease. This work could aid in the development of better therapeutics; current treatments are not effective for everyone and often only reduce, and do not always relieve the pain. 

The work, by scientists at the University of Michigan, has been reported in Neurology and is summarized in the video above. You can see how they use a special room to study the PET scans.

Dopamine is a special signaling chemical of the brain, a neurotransmitter, that has a host of important functions; it aids in the regulation of emotion and movement, and it has roles in reward and motivation to name a few. Some migraine treatments involve dopamine antagonists, which work by stopping receptors in the brain that bind dopamine, helping to lower their activity and mediate dopamine levels, with the goal of relieving the pain of migraines. 

To learn more about the role of dopamine in migraines, the researchers utilized PET scans in order to assay brain activity and measure dopamine levels in the brains of eight healthy people and eight that suffer from migraines, while they had headaches and while they did not. When the investigators compared those measurements and observations, they found that dopamine levels were stable in the brains of migraine sufferers in between migraine attacks, but when they were experiencing a migraine, their dopamine level fell significantly. 

"Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters controlling sensory sensitivity," explained Kenneth Casey, a Professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan. "Therefore, a drop in dopamine could produce increased sensory sensitivity so that normally painless or imperceptible sensory signals from skin, muscle and blood vessels could become painful."

The investigators observed that as patients rested when they had a migraine, dopamine levels increased slightly, and symptoms would get worse if they experienced something that normally might feel fine, like applying a warm cloth to the forehead. That phenomenon is called allodynia - an increased sensitivity or a painful sensation from stimuli not normally considered painful. It is sometimes attributed to environmental factors.

The findings are correlative, so it is still not known exactly what role dopamine has in these headaches. Considering the known roles of dopamine, those low levels during attacks may be to blame for the withdrawal and isolation often seen in patients when they experience a migraine.

"This dopamine reduction and fluctuation during the migraine attack is your brain telling you that something is not going well internally, and that you need time to heal by forcing you to slow down, go to a dark room and avoid any kind of stimulation," commented Alex DaSilva, an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and Center for Human Growth and Development.

This work may help create better migraine treatments.

 

Sources: UPI, University of MichiganNeurology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
DEC 16, 2018
Health & Medicine
DEC 16, 2018
Important Biomedical Research At Risk Of Being Defunded
In September the Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.) released a statement citing “serious regulatory, moral and ethical considerations...
DEC 22, 2018
Microbiology
DEC 22, 2018
A Viral Assassin Uses Bacterial Communication to Make the Kill
Researchers at Princeton University have found a virus that can eavesdrop on the communications between bacteria....
DEC 24, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 24, 2018
Insight Into the Cause of Huntington's Disease, and a Potential Treatment
There is no treatment for Huntington's disease at this time, and the scientists hope that this work will lead to one....
JAN 04, 2019
Videos
JAN 04, 2019
When the ADAR1 Enzyme Goes Awry, it Encourages Cancer
Scientists at the UCSD have identified a function of an enzyme made in stem cells called ADAR1....
JAN 05, 2019
Health & Medicine
JAN 05, 2019
The CRISPR Craze - New Frontiers in Gene Editing
The CRISPR/Cas system is an adaptive prokaryotic immune system which allows bacteria to inhibit viral infection. In 2012, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were...
JAN 07, 2019
Videos
JAN 07, 2019
Scientists Learn More About a Foodborne Pathogen
We're surrounded by bacteria; they live everywhere in our environment and even inside of our bodies. While many are harmless, some are pathogenic....
Loading Comments...