Glutamate (Glu) is the principal excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its receptors are classified into ionotropic receptors, which are ion channels and include NMDA, AMPA and kainate receptors, named after the agonists that selectively bind to them, and metabotropic receptors, which are G-protein coupled receptors. The trigeminal system is considered to play a key role in migraine pathophysiology, trafficking pain signals from the head and face to the trigeminal nucleus caudalis. The role of glutamate in the pathophysiology of migraine is implicated by data from animal and human studies. Animal studies include experiments of cortical spreading depression, studies of c-fos protein expression in trigeminal nucleus caudalis, studies of plasma protein extravasation and electrophysiological studies. Human studies investigating the role of Glu in migraine pathogenesis measured the levels of Glu in plasma, platelets and cerebrospinal fluid, studied its effect on migraine symptoms and examined the effect of Glu in modulating sensitization. Findings from both the animal and the human studies suggest a link between glutamate and migraine and further suggest that glutamate plays a key role in migraine mechanisms. In the future, efforts should be made to further investigate the role of glutamate in migraine pathogenesis and, subsequently, in migraine treatment.
Glutamate, migraine, NMDA, AMPA, kainate, metabotropic receptors, cortical spreading depression, neuronal hyperexcitability
Athens Naval Hospital, Neurology Department, Athens, Greece.