The role of glutamate in migraine treatment has not been much studied, even if this amino acid seems to be crucial in the pathogenesis of migraine. Our aim was to determine if there were differences in the plasma levels of glutamate between migraine patients and control subjects and if plasma levels of glutamate in migraine patients modified after 8 weeks of prophylactic treatment. We studied 24 patients with diagnosis of migraine without aura according to International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edn criteria, and 24 age- and sex-matched healthy subjects, as controls. In migraineurs the level of glutamate was measured before and after 8 weeks of prophylactic treatment (topiramate 50 mg/day, five patients; amitriptyline 20 mg/day, seven patients; flunarizine 5 mg/day, seven patients; propranolol 80 mg/day, five patients). Venous blood samples were taken in the morning, after overnight fasting, and at least 3 days after the last migraine day. Glutamate levels were measured by means of a fluorimetric detector high-pressure liquid chromatographic method. Plasma levels of glutamate were significantly higher in migraine patients-either before (61.79 +/- 18.75 micromol/l) or after prophylactic treatment (17.64 +/- 5.08 micromol/l)-than in controls (9.36 +/- 2.1 micromol/l) (P < 0.05, anova followed by Newman-Keuls' test). After prophylactic treatment, with headache frequency reduced, plasma glutamate levels were significantly lower in the same patient with respect to the prior baseline level (P < 0.0001, Student's t-test for paired data), without any differences depending on the kind of prophylactic drug. Effective prophylactic treatments reducing high glutamate plasma levels found in migraine patients could act on the underlying mechanism that contributes to cause migraine. Plasma glutamate level monitoring in migraine patients might serve as a biomarker of response to treatments and as an objective measure of disease status.