The development of cutaneous allodynia during a migraine attack clinical evidence for the sequential recruitment of spinal and supraspinal nociceptive neurons in migraine

Brain. 2000 Aug:123 ( Pt 8):1703-9. doi: 10.1093/brain/123.8.1703.


Recently, we showed that most migraine patients exhibit cutaneous allodynia inside and outside their pain-referred areas when examined during a fully developed migraine attack. In this report, we studied the way in which cutaneous allodynia develops by measuring the pain thresholds in the head and forearms bilaterally at several time points during a migraine attack in a 42-year-old male. Prior to the headache, he experienced visual, sensory, motor and speech aura. During the headache, he experienced photo-, phono- and odour-phobia, nausea and vomiting, worsening of the headache by coughing or moving his head, and cutaneous pain when shaving, combing his hair or touching his scalp. Comparisons between his pain thresholds in the absence of migraine and at 1, 2 and 4 h after the onset of migraine revealed the following. (i) After 1 h, mechanical and cold allodynia started to develop in the ipsilateral head but not in any other site. (ii) After 2 h, this allodynia increased on the ipsilateral head and spread to the contralateral head and ipsilateral forearm. (iii) After 4 h, heat allodynia was also detected while mechanical and cold allodynia continued to increase. These clinical observations suggest the following sequence of events along the trigeminovascular pain pathway of this patient. (i) A few minutes after the initial activation of his peripheral nociceptors, they became sensitized; this sensitization can mediate the symptoms of intracranial hypersensitivity. (ii) The barrage of impulses that came from the peripheral nociceptors activated second-order neurons and initiated their sensitization; this sensitization can mediate the development of cutaneous allodynia on the ipsilateral head. (iii) The barrage of impulses that came from the sensitized second-order neurons activated and eventually sensitized third-order neurons; this sensitization can mediate the development of cutaneous allodynia on the contralateral head and ipsilateral forearm at the 2-h point, over 1 h after the appearance of allodynia on the ipsilateral head. This interpretation calls for an early use of anti-migraine drugs that target peripheral nociceptors, before the development of central sensitization. If central sensitization develops, the therapeutic rationale is to suppress it. Because currently available drugs that aim to suppress central sensitization are ineffective, this study stresses the need to develop them for the treatment of migraine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / etiology*
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Migraine Disorders / etiology*
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological
  • Skin Diseases / etiology*
  • Skin Diseases / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology