Understanding migraine through the lens of maladaptive stress responses: a model disease of allostatic load

Neuron. 2012 Jan 26;73(2):219-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.01.001.


The brain and body respond to potential and actual stressful events by activating hormonal and neural mediators and modifying behaviors to adapt. Such responses help maintain physiological stability ("allostasis"). When behavioral or physiological stressors are frequent and/or severe, allostatic responses can become dysregulated and maladaptive ("allostatic load"). Allostatic load may alter brain networks both functionally and structurally. As a result, the brain's responses to continued/subsequent stressors are abnormal, and behavior and systemic physiology are altered in ways that can, in a vicious cycle, lead to further allostatic load. Migraine patients are continually exposed to such stressors, resulting in changes to central and peripheral physiology and function. Here we review how changes in brain states that occur as a result of repeated migraines may be explained by a maladaptive feedforward allostatic cascade model and how understanding migraine within the context of allostatic load model suggests alternative treatments for this often-debilitating disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Allostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*