'Spreading depression of Leão' and its emerging relevance to acute brain injury in humans

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2017 May;37(5):1553-1570. doi: 10.1177/0271678X16657092. Epub 2016 Jan 1.


A new research field in translational neuroscience has opened as a result of the recognition since 2002 that "spreading depression of Leão" can be detected in many patients with acute brain injury, whether vascular and spontaneous, or traumatic in origin, as well as in those many individuals experiencing the visual (or sensorimotor) aura of migraine. In this review, we trace from their first description in rabbits through to their detection and study in migraine and the injured human brain, and from our personal perspectives, the evolution of understanding of the importance of spread of mass depolarisations in cerebral grey matter. Detection of spontaneous depolarisations occurring and spreading in the periphery or penumbra of experimental focal cortical ischemic lesions and of their adverse effects on the cerebral cortical microcirculation and on the tissue glucose and oxygen pools has led to clearer concepts of how ischaemic and traumatic lesions evolve in the injured human brain, and of how to seek to improve clinical management and outcome. Recognition of the likely fundamental significance of spreading depolarisations for this wide range of serious acute encephalopathies in humans provides a powerful case for a fresh examination of neuroprotection strategies.

Keywords: Cortical spreading depolarisation; migraine; stroke; subarachnoid haemorrhage; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / etiology
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy*
  • Cortical Spreading Depression / physiology*
  • Electrocorticography
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Migraine with Aura / physiopathology*
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Oxygen / metabolism


  • Glucose
  • Oxygen