Serotonin in migraine: Theories, animal models and emerging therapies

Part of the Progress in Drug Research book series (PDR, volume 51)


A role for serotonin in migraine has been supported by changes in circulating levels of serotonin and its metabolites during the phases of a migraine attack, along with the ability of serotonin-releasing agents to induce migraine-like symptoms. The development of serotonin receptor agonists with efficacy in the clinic for the alleviation of migraine pain further implicates serotonin as a key molecule in migraine.

Several theories regarding the etiology of migraine have been proposed. The vasodilatory theory of migraine suggested that extracranial arterial dilation during an attack was related to migraine pain; a theory supported when vasoconstrictors such as sumatriptan alleviated migraine pain. The neurological theory of migraine proposed that migraine resulted from abnormal firing in brain neurons. Cortical spreading depression, one facet of the neurological theory, could explain the prodrome of migraine. The neurogenic dural inflammation theory of migraine supposed that the dural membrane surrounding the brain became inflamed and hypersensitive due to release of neuropeptides from primary sensory nerve terminals. Substance P, calcitonin gene related peptide and nitric oxide are all though to play a role in the dural inflammatory cascade.

Animal models of migraine have been utilized to study the physiology of migraine and develop new pharmaceutical therapies. One model measures the shunting of blood to arterovenous anastomoses based on a proposal that migraine primarily involves cranial arteriovenous vasodilation. Another model utilizes electrical stimulation of the trigeminal ganglion to indoce neurogenic dural inflammation quantified by the resulting extravasation of proteins. Pharmacological agents such as meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP) and nitroglycerin have also been used to induce dural extravasation in animals. Both compounds also induce migraine attacks in individuals with a history of migraine. In addition, Fos, a protein produced by activation of the c-fos gene, has been measured as an index of migraine-like pain transmission to the CNS following chemical or electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve.

A role for serotonin in migraine is further supported by the efficacy of serotonin receptor ligands. Sumatriptan is an agonist at 5-HT1D and 5-HT1B receptor subtypes, and effective in treating migraine pain and associated symptoms. Recently, selective 5-HT1F agonists have been proposed for the treatment of migraine, without the side effects associated with the present 5-HT1D and 5-HT1B receptor agonists. A role for 5-HT2B receptors has also been suggested in the initiation of migraine, supporting use of selective 5-HT2B receptor antagonists in migraine. Thus, agents that modulate 5-HT1B, 5-HT1D, 5-HT1F and 5-HT2B receptors either have or may have clinical utility in the therapy of migraine headache.


review serotonin migraine animal models neurogenic inflammation dural protein extravasation 5-HT1B receptor, 5-HT1D receptor, 5-HT1F receptor, 5-HT2B receptor nitric oxide clinical therapies serotonin agonists serotonin antagonists substance P calcitonin gene-related peptide 

Glossary of abbreviations


5-hydroxyindole acetic acid


5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin)


calcitonin gene-related peptide




nitric oxide


central nervous system


N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester


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© Springer Basel AG 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lilly Research LaboratoriesEli Lilly and Company, Lilly Corporate CenterIndianapolisUSA

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