Headache Related Alterations of Visual Processing in Migraine Patients

J Pain. 2020 May-Jun;21(5-6):593-602. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.08.017. Epub 2019 Oct 3.


Migraine is characterized by an increased sensitivity to visual stimuli that worsens during attacks. Recent evidence has shown that feedforward volleys carrying incoming visual information induce high-frequency (gamma) oscillations in the visual cortex, while feedback volleys arriving from higher order brain areas induce oscillatory activity at lower frequencies (theta/alpha/low beta). We investigated visually induced high (feedforward) and low (feedback) frequency activations in healthy subjects and various migraine patients. Visual evoked potentials from 20 healthy controls and 70 migraine patients (30 interictal and 20 ictal episodic migraineurs, 20 chronic migraineurs) were analyzed in the frequency domain. We compared power in the theta-alpha-low beta and gamma range between groups, and searched for correlations between the low-to-high frequency activity ratio and number of monthly headache and migraine days. Compared to healthy controls, interictal migraine patients had increased visually induced low frequency (feedback) activity. Conversely, ictal and chronic migraine patients showed an augmented gamma band (feedforward) power. The low-frequency-to-gamma (feedback/feedforward) activity ratio correlated negatively with monthly headache days and tended to do so with migraine days. Our findings show that visual processing is differentially altered depending on migraine cycle and type. Feedback control from higher order cortical areas predominates interictally in episodic migraine while migraine attacks and chronic migraine are associated with enhanced incoming afferent activity, confirming their similar electrophysiological profile. The presence of headache is associated with proportionally higher gamma (feedforward) activities. PERSPECTIVE: This study provides an insight into the pathophysiology of migraine headache from the perspective of cortical sensory processing dynamics. Patients with migraine present alterations in feedback and feedforward visual signaling that differ with the presence of headache.

Keywords: Visual evoked potentials; chronic migraine; episodic migraine; feedback; feedforward; spectral analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult