Objective: Topiramate, valproate, propranolol, amitriptyline, and methysergide have been widely prescribed for migraine prophylaxis, but their mechanism or site of action is uncertain. Cortical spreading depression (CSD) has been implicated in migraine and as a headache trigger and can be evoked in experimental animals by electrical or chemical stimulation. We hypothesized that migraine prophylactic agents suppress CSD as a common mechanism of action.
Methods: Rats were treated either acutely or chronically over weeks and months, with one of the above migraine prophylactic drugs, vehicle, or D-propranolol, a clinically ineffective drug. The impact of treatment was determined on the frequency of evoked CSDs after topical potassium application or on the incremental cathodal stimulation threshold to evoke CSD.
Results: Chronic daily administration of migraine prophylactic drugs dose-dependently suppressed CSD frequency by 40 to 80% and increased the cathodal stimulation threshold, whereas acute treatment was ineffective. Longer treatment durations produced stronger CSD suppression. Chronic D-propranolol treatment did not differ from saline control.
Interpretation: Our data suggest that CSD provides a common therapeutic target for widely prescribed migraine prophylactic drugs. Assessing CSD threshold may prove useful for developing new prophylactic drugs and improving upon existing ones.