Increased thalamic glutamate/glutamine levels in migraineurs

J Headache Pain. 2018 Jul 17;19(1):55. doi: 10.1186/s10194-018-0885-8.


Background: Increased cortical excitability has been hypothesized to play a critical role in various neurological disorders, such as restless legs syndrome, epilepsy and migraine. Particularly for migraine, local hyperexcitability has been reported. Levels of regional excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are related to cortical excitability and hence may play a role in the origin of the disease. Consequently, a mismatch of the excitatory-inhibitory neurotransmitter network might contribute to local hyperexcitability and the onset of migraine attacks. In this study we sought to assess local levels of glutamate / glutamine (GLX) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the occipital cortex and right thalamus of migraineurs and healthy subjects.

Methods: We measured interictally local biochemical concentrations in the occipital lobe and the right thalamus in patients with migraine (without aura) and healthy controls (HCs) using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3 T. GLX levels were acquired using PRESS and GABA levels using the GABA-sensitive editing sequence MEGA-PRESS. Regional GLX and GABA levels were compared between groups.

Results: Statistical analyses revealed significantly increased GLX levels in both the primary occipital cortex and thalamus. However, we found no group differences in GABA levels for these two regions. Correlation analyses within the migraine group revealed no significant correlations between pain intensity and levels of GLX or GABA in either of the two brain regions.

Conclusions: Further research is needed to investigate the role of GABA/GLX ratios in greater depth and to measure changes in neurotransmitter levels over time, i.e. during migraine attacks and interictally.

Keywords: GABA; Headache; Migraine; Occipital cortex; Spectroscopy; Thalamus.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / metabolism*
  • Thalamus / metabolism*
  • Young Adult
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid