Serotonergic mechanisms in the migraine brain - a systematic review

Cephalalgia. 2017 Mar;37(3):251-264. doi: 10.1177/0333102416640501. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


Background Migraine is one of the most common and disabling of all medical conditions, affecting 16% of the general population, causing huge socioeconomic costs globally. Current available treatment options are inadequate. Serotonin is a key molecule in the neurobiology of migraine, but the exact role of brain serotonergic mechanisms remains a matter of controversy. Methods We systematically searched PubMed for studies investigating the serotonergic system in the migraine brain by either molecular neuroimaging or electrophysiological methods. Results The literature search resulted in 59 papers, of which 13 were eligible for review. The reviewed papers collectively support the notion that migraine patients have alterations in serotonergic neurotransmission. Most likely, migraine patients have a low cerebral serotonin level between attacks, which elevates during a migraine attack. Conclusion This review suggests that novel methods of investigating the serotonergic system in the migraine brain are warranted. Uncovering the serotonergic mechanisms in migraine pathophysiology could prove useful for the development of future migraine drugs.

Keywords: Serotonin; brain; electrophysiology; molecular imaging; neurobiology of migraine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / metabolism
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Serotonin