Genetic Malfunction of Brain Astrocytes Triggers Migraine in Familial Hemiplegic Migraine Type 2 (FHM2), New Study Suggests

Migraine is one of the most disabling disorders, affecting one in seven people and causing a tremendous social and economic burden. Several findings suggest that migraine is a disease affecting a large part of the central nervous system and characterized by a global dysfunction in sensory information processing and integration, which also occurs between migraine episodes (interictal period). For example, patients with migraine exhibit increased cortical responses to sensory stimuli during the interictal period. At present, the cellular mechanisms responsible for these alterations are largely unknown. A team of neuroscientists led by Mirko Santello, PhD, at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Zurich (Switzerland), in collaboration with the University of Padua (Italy), has identified a new mechanism implicated in a special form of migraine caused by genetic mutation. The researchers report that familial hemiplegic migraine type 2 (FHM2) causes a malfunction of astrocytes in the cingulate cortex, a brain region that is involved in the feeling of pain. Astrocytes, specific star-shaped brain cells, are essential contributors to neuronal function and have a strong impact on brain circuits and behavior. These results were published online on June 3, 2020 in Science Advances. The open-access article is titled “Astrocyte Dysfunction Increases Cortical Dendritic Excitability and Promotes Cranial Pain In Familial Migraine.” "Despite their abundance, astrocytes have been relatively overlooked by neuroscientists," says Dr. Santello, the senior author of the study. Yet these cells are extremely important to clear transmitters released by neurons. In their study the researchers were able to show that in familial migraine the astrocytes cannot remove excessive transmitters released by neurons.
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