Health, Sports & Psychology

Mice tackling migraines

Updated Tuesday 15th December 2009

Kat Arney explains how mice have helped make a breakthrough in migraine research.

Kat Arney: Migraines can be extremely debilitating as any sufferer will know, but the trouble is we still don’t really know what causes them, and now researchers writing in the latest edition of the journal Neuron have made a step forward in understanding what may make the brain vulnerable to migraine attacks.

Chris Smith: What have they found?

Kat: This is work by Daniela Pietrobon and her colleagues in Italy and the Netherlands. Now, we know from previous research that the so-called aura in migraine, this is a visual disturbance, is caused by something called cortical spreading depression; this is an electrical wave that passes across the brain. Now, it was thought that this wave is basically what brings on the migraine, and in this work the researchers studied mice with a gene fault called FHM1. This is the same fault that causes a condition in humans called familial hemiplegic migraine, and these mice also showed cortical spreading depression, so they’re thought to be a pretty good model for human migraine.

Laboratory mouse Creative commons image Icon Rick Eh? used under Creative Commons licence. under Creative-Commons license
Laboratory mouse.

Now the scientists studied the brains of these mice in depth, and they discovered that the brains with the FHM mutation showed high levels of release of a neurotransmitter called glutamate, and this is the main chemical in the brain that excites or activates nerve cells, but when the researchers dropped the levels of glutamate in these FHM mice, the mice didn’t show cortical spreading depression, so presumably weren’t experiencing these migraines.

Chris: One thing to say, it’s true in mice though, what about in humans?

Kat: Well, the research does show that the overactive release of glutamate might explain why this cortical spreading depression is more likely in the mice with the mutation. It does suggest that perhaps migraines are down to imbalance between activation and suppression of nerve cell activity in the brain. Now, this idea does need following up with studies in humans, but it may also help to explain why some people are susceptible to migraines and could even point towards new avenues for treatment in the future.

Listen to the whole edition of Breaking Science, originally broadcast on Radio Five Live, March 2009

Find out more

Can hypnotherapy really help with pain control?

Free Open University course materials from the Learning Space: How does aspirin control pain?

Study at The OU: Molecules, medicines and drugs: a chemical story

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Is norovirus an economic threat? Creative commons image Icon bixentro under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Is norovirus an economic threat?

Is the loss to the global economy of the "winter vomiting virus" hard to swallow?

Article
A view from a GP Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: photos.com article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

A view from a GP

While watching Alternative Therapies, Tom Heller considers what science can learn from Kathy Sykes' journey.

Article
What happens when you fall ill on a plane? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

What happens when you fall ill on a plane?

If you get sick during a plane flight, the doctors treating you will most likely be thousands of miles away. 

Video
5 mins
Why is Mongolia a good place to die? Creative commons image Icon Bernd Thaller under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Why is Mongolia a good place to die?

A campaigning doctor has helped make Mongolia a better place to die than many much wealthier nations. Andrew North met her to find out how.

Article
Feeding the Chilean miners Creative commons image Icon By Andreaqi via Flickr under Creative Commons licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Feeding the Chilean miners

What would the Chilean miners have been given to eat when they were trapped? Audrey Brown, a science tutor at the Open University, provides an insight.

Article
Health is everywhere: Unravelling the mystery of health Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Health is everywhere: Unravelling the mystery of health

This free course, Health is everywhere: Unravelling the mystery of health, considers two ideas: that health is an ever-present factor in our lives, and that health is something difficult to define. But how can we say that health is everywhere if it is so mysterious? How do we recognise health if it so difficult to define? There are no easy answers to these questions! In this course we explore this paradox, not just because it is a fascinating dilemma but because understanding health in all its multifaceted complexity is a prerequisite to working for health in imaginative, creative and useful ways, in both our private and our public lives.

Free course
6 hrs
Ageism debate: In the library Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Brad Calkins | Dreamstime.com activity icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Ageism debate: In the library

Do you think, generally speaking, young children and older people see enough of each other? Join the debate.

Activity
How is a scorpion going to help fight brain cancers? Creative commons image Icon Alastair Rae under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

How is a scorpion going to help fight brain cancers?

Telling cancer from non-cancer is tough for brain surgeons. Scorpions, Amazon.com and the legacy of a dying girl might change that, writes Alex O'Brien.

Article
Recipe: Tiramisu Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team activity icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Recipe: Tiramisu

Try out our recipe from the Ever Wondered About Food series

Activity