Familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) is an autosomal dominantly inherited subtype of migraine with aura, characterized by transient neurological signs and symptoms. Typical hemiplegic migraine attacks start in the first or second decade of life. Some patients with FHM suffer from daily recurrent attacks since childhood. Results from extensive studies of cellular and animal models have indicated that gene mutations in FHM increase neuronal excitability and reduce the threshold for spreading depression (SD). SD is a transient wave of profound neuronal and glial depolarization that slowly propagates throughout the brain tissue and is characterized by a high amplitude negative DC shift. After induction of SD, S218L mutant mice exhibited neurological signs highly reminiscent of clinical attacks in FHM type 1 patients carrying this mutation. FHM1 with ataxia is attributable to specific mutations that differ from mutations that cause pure FHM1 and have peculiar consequences on cerebellar Cav2.1 currents that lead to profound Purkinje cell dysfunction and neuronal loss with atrophy. SD in juvenile rats produced neuronal injury and death. Hormonal factors involved in FHM affect SD initiation and propagation. The data identify SD as a possible target of treatment of FHM. In addition, FHM is a useful model to explore the mechanisms of more common types of migraine.
Keywords: Cerebrovascular diseases; Children; Headache; Spreading depolarization.