MAR 30, 2017 6:11 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
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 23, 2022
Plants & Animals
Brown Algae Pigment Could Have Beneficial Health, Biofuel Applications
SEP 23, 2022
Brown Algae Pigment Could Have Beneficial Health, Biofuel Applications
When we think of algae, what do we think of? Probably, you think of thick gobs of green floating along the edges of a po ...
OCT 18, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
New Mitochondrial Disease Identified in Identical Twins
OCT 18, 2022
New Mitochondrial Disease Identified in Identical Twins
A new mitochondrial disease has been identified after a pair of identical twins were showing an unusual symptom. Despite ...
OCT 26, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Ancient Selfish Genes Carried by Yeast May Change Our View of Evolution
OCT 26, 2022
Ancient Selfish Genes Carried by Yeast May Change Our View of Evolution
When genes are passed down to the next generation, some have an advantage, and are more likely to be inherited than othe ...
NOV 08, 2022
Neuroscience
Does Nose-Picking Really Increase Alzheimer's Risk?
NOV 08, 2022
Does Nose-Picking Really Increase Alzheimer's Risk?
Researchers have found that a bacterium that travels via the olfactory nerve from the nose to the brain may lead to Alzh ...
NOV 09, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Want to Study Copy Number Alterations in Cells? Bring MACHETE
NOV 09, 2022
Want to Study Copy Number Alterations in Cells? Bring MACHETE
Sure, MACHETE is a cool name, but the researchers that developed the technique are hoping people don't focus solely on t ...
NOV 28, 2022
Immunology
New Insights Into How Fats Can Affect Immunity
NOV 28, 2022
New Insights Into How Fats Can Affect Immunity
Immunity is closely linked to metabolism, and in recent years, scientists have found that fat molecules, or lipids, can ...
Loading Comments...