History of the use of ergotamine and dihydroergotamine in migraine from 1906 and onward

Cephalalgia. 2008 Aug;28(8):877-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2008.01578.x. Epub 2008 May 5.


Dale showed in 1906 in a seminal work that ergot inhibits the pressor effect of adrenaline. Stoll at Sandoz isolated ergotamine from ergot in 1918. Based on the belief that migraine was due to increased sympathetic activity, ergotamine was first used in the acute treatment of migraine by Maier in Switzerland in 1925. In 1938 Graham and Wolff demonstrated the parallel decrease of temporal pulsations and headache after ergotamine i.v. This inspired the vascular theory of Wolff: an initial cerebral vasoconstriction followed by an extracranial vasodilation. Dihydroergotamine (DHE) was introduced as an adrenolytic agent in 1943. It is still in use parenterally and by the nasal route. Before the triptan era ergotamine and DHE had widespread use as the only specific antimigraine drugs. From 1950 the world literature on ergotamine was dominated by two adverse events: ergotamine overuse headache and the relatively rare overt ergotism. Recently, oral ergotamine, which has an oral bioavailability of < 1%, has been inferior to oral triptans in randomized clinical trials. A European Consensus in 2000 concluded that ergotamine is not a drug of first choice. In an American review of 2003 it was suggested that ergotamine may be considered in the treatment of selected patients with moderate to severe migraine.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / history*
  • Ergotamine / history*
  • Ergotamine / therapeutic use*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Migraine Disorders / history*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / history
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use


  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Ergotamine