Public Release:  Thalamus may play a key role in regulating migraine pain

May explain why blind migraine sufferers get attacks that are triggered by light

MBooth & Associates

WASHINGTON, DC (June 1, 2011) -- The anatomy of migraine - a close look at the neurobiology of the disease - focuses on the thalamus, the area of the brain that is involved in sensory perception and regulation of motor functions, in one a major session of the 53rd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society meeting here this week.

The session examines the role of the thalamus in regulating pain transmission in migraine, a new understanding of the anatomy of migraine. It will be at 3:15 pm, Thursday, June 3, and is chaired by Michael A. Moskowitz, MD, of the Neuroscience Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and R. Allan Purdy, MD, who is scientific chair of this year's meeting

"Elegant basic science and clinical experiments have recently demonstrated that the thalamus acts as a sort of railway station and integration center for the transmission of migraine pain," Dr. Purdy said. "An impulse comes into the 'station' and the thalamus regulates how it will be transmitted to the cortex, and the extent to which it is made worse by environmental stimuli, such as light." We are beginning to understand that the thalamus may be a target for current and future migraine treatments

In a study of blind people, Rami Burstein, professor of anesthesia and critical care medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at two groups of blind patients who suffer migraine headaches - the first group included patients totally blind due to eye diseases such as retinal cancer and glaucoma and the second group patients who were legally blind due to retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa. Patients in the first group were unable to see images or to sense light and therefore could not maintain normal sleep-wake cycles. Patients in the second group described intensified pain when they were exposed to light, in particular to blue wavelengths.

"This suggested to us that the mechanism of photophobia must involve the optic nerve, because in totally blind individuals, the optic nerve does not carry light signals to the brain," Dr. Burstein said.

###

Migraine scientists meeting this week are considering this subject, among others, at the annual scientific conference of the American Headache Society.

ABOUT MIGRAINE

Some 36 million Americans suffer from migraine, more than have asthma or diabetes combined. Migraine is characterized by pulsating or throbbing pain which can be moderate to severe in intensity. Its severity can be extremely disabling for sufferers, painful enough to cause work loss and absence from activities with family and friends. Migraine costs the United States more than $20 billion each year. Costs are attributed to direct medical expenses (e.g. doctor visits, medications) and indirect expenses (e.g. missed work, lost productivity).

ABOUT THE AMERICAN HEADACHE SOCIETY

The American Headache Society® (AHS) is a professional society of health care providers dedicated to the study and treatment of headache and face pain. The Society's objectives are to promote the exchange of information and ideas concerning the causes and treatments of headache and related painful disorders. Educating physicians, health professionals and the public and encouraging scientific research are the primary functions of this organization. AHS activities include an annual scientific meeting, a comprehensive headache symposium, regional symposia for neurologists and family practice physicians, publication of the journal Headache and sponsorship of the AHS Committee for Headache Education (ACHE). www.americanheadachesociety.org

ABOUT THE AMERICAN MIGRAINE FOUNDATION

The American Migraine Foundation is a non-profit foundation supported by the American Headache Society and generous donors dedicated to the advancement of migraine research. The mission of this newly formed foundation is to support innovative research that will lead to improvement in the lives of those who suffer from migraine and other disabling headaches. (www.americanmigrainefoundation.org)

CONTACTS: Joyce Yaeger
212-539-3238
917-783-6105
Joycey@mbooth.com

Joan Kaplan
914- 282-7095
joanwkaplan@gmail.com

Jamie Evans
212-539-3224
516-808-5773
jamie@mbooth.com

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.