Researchers look for the causes of migraines using MRI

Wolfgang Kempkens, pte

Thanks to high-resolution MRI scans of the brains of migraine patients, researchers are finding the causes of the mysterious illness more easily. A new requirement to combat migraine attacks?

25. November 2022

Comparing brains: high-resolution MRI images reveal causes of migraines (Image:, Wilson Xu)

researchers of University of Southern California discovered significant changes in the perivascular spaces of a brain region called the “centrum semiovale” on MRI images. Perivascular spaces are fluid-filled sacs that surround blood vessels in the brain. They are most commonly located in the basal ganglia, deep in the cerebral hemisphere and the center of the cerebrum, and along the visual tract. Perivascular spaces can cause abnormalities at the blood-brain barrier and inflammation.

150 million people affected

Migraine is a severe headache disorder. It can also cause nausea, weakness, and sensitivity to light. According to the American Migraine Foundation Migraines affect over 37 million people in the US alone, and up to 148 million people worldwide suffer from chronic migraines. Wilson Xu and his colleagues discovered the enlarged perivascular spaces with a seven-Tesla MRI – current clinical devices come up with a magnetic field that is only half as strong.

To identify connections, the researchers compared structural microvascular changes in different types of migraine. “Investigating how fluid retention contributes to migraines could help us better understand the complexity of how migraines occur. Because the MRI we use is able to create images of the brain with much higher resolution and better quality than other types of MRI, we can see much smaller changes that occur in the brain tissue during a migraine,” Xu said.

Glymphatic system possible

The study participants included ten subjects each with chronic and episodic migraines and five healthy people. All were between 25 and 60 years old. The researchers suspect that significant differences in the perivascular spaces in patients with migraines compared to healthy ones indicate a glymphatic disorder in the brain.

The glymphatic system is responsible for eliminating soluble proteins and metabolites, which are waste, from the central nervous system. This could be a cause of migraines, but a lot of research needs to be done to understand all the connections. The results will be presented at the annual meeting Radiological Society of North America presented in Chicago from November 27th to December 1st.

Source: press text

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