Journal article

Migraine Aura: Retracting Particle-Like Waves in Weakly Susceptible Cortex

Cortical spreading depression (SD) has been suggested to underlie migraine aura. Despite a precise match in speed, the spatio-temporal patterns of SD observed in animal cortex and aura symptoms mapped to the cortical surface ordinarily differ in aspects of size and shape. We show that this mismatch is reconciled by utilizing that both pattern types bifurcate from an instability point of generic reaction-diffusion models. To classify these spatio-temporal pattern we suggest a susceptibility scale having the value sigma = 1 at the instability point. We predict that human cortex is only weakly susceptible to SD (sigma < 1), and support this prediction by directly matching visual aura symptoms with anatomical landmarks using fMRI retinotopic mapping. Moreover, we use retinal SD to give a proof of concept of the existence of this instability point and describe how cortical susceptibility to SD must be adjusted for migraine drug testing. Close to the instability point at sigma = 1 the dynamical repertoire of cortical tissue is increased. As a consequence, the picture of an engulfing SD that became paradigmatic for migraine with aura needs to be modified in most cases towards a more spatially confined pattern that remains within the originating major gyrus or sulcus. Furthermore, we discuss the resulting implications on migraine pharmacology that is hitherto tested in the regime (sigma > 1), and potentially silent aura occurring below a second bifurcation point at sigma = 0 on the susceptible scale.


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