Migraine and motion sickness: what is the link?

Prog Neurobiol. 2010 Aug;91(4):300-12. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2010.04.001. Epub 2010 Apr 21.


The brainstem is a structurally complex region, containing numerous ascending and descending fibres that converge on centres that regulate bodily functions essential to life. Afferent input from the cranial tissues and the special senses is processed, in part, in brainstem nuclei. In addition, brainstem centres modulate the flow of pain messages and other forms of sensory information to higher regions of the brain, and influence the general excitability of these cortical regions. Thus, disruptions in brainstem processing might evoke a complex range of unpleasant symptoms, vegetative changes and neurovascular disturbances and that, together, form attacks of migraine. Migraine is linked with various co-morbid conditions, the most prominent being motion sickness. Symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and headache are common to motion sickness and migraine; moreover, migraine sufferers have a heightened vulnerability to motion sickness. As both maladies involve reflexes that relay in the brainstem, symptoms may share the same neural circuitry. In consequence, subclinical interictal persistence of disturbances in these brainstem pathways could not only increase vulnerability to recurrent attacks of migraine but also increase susceptibility to motion sickness. Mechanisms that mediate symptoms of motion sickness and migraine are explored in this paper. The physiology of motion sickness and migraine is discussed, and neurotransmitters that may be involved in the manifestation of symptoms are reviewed. Recent findings have shed light on the relationship between migraine and motion sickness, and provide insights into the generation of migraine attacks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / complications
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology
  • Migraine Disorders / complications*
  • Migraine Disorders / pathology
  • Motion Sickness / complications*
  • Motion Sickness / pathology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / complications
  • Vestibular Diseases / complications


  • Serotonin