Morphological abnormalities of thalamic subnuclei in migraine: A multicenter MRI study at 3 tesla

Stefano Magon, Arne May, Anne Stankewitz, Peter J. Goadsby, Amy R. Tso, Messoud Ashina, Faisal Mohammad Amin, Christian L. Seifert, M. Mallar Chakravarty, Jannis Müller, Till Sprenger

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56 Scopus citations


The thalamus contains third-order relay neurons of the trigeminal system, and animal models as well as preliminary imaging studies in small cohorts of migraine patients have suggested a role of the thalamus in headache pathophysiology. However, larger studies using advanced imaging techniques in substantial patient populations are lacking. In the present study, we investigated changes of thalamic volume and shape in a large multicenter cohort of patients with migraine. High-resolution T1-weighted MRI data acquired at 3 tesla in 131 patients with migraine (38 with aura; 30.8 ± 9 years old; 109 women; monthly attack frequency: 3.2 ± 2.5; disease duration: 14 ± 8.4 years) and 115 matched healthy subjects (29 ± 7 years old; 81 women) from four international tertiary headache centers were analyzed. The thalamus and thalamic subnuclei, striatum, and globus pallidus were segmented using a fully automated multiatlas approach. Deformation-based shape analysis was performed to localize surface abnormalities. Differences between patients with migraine and healthy subjects were assessed using an ANCOVA model. After correction for multiple comparisons, performed using the false discovery rate approach (p < 0.05 corrected), significant volume reductions of the following thalamic nuclei were observed in migraineurs: central nuclear complex (F(1,233) = 6.79), anterior nucleus (F(1,237) = 7.38), and lateral dorsal nucleus (F(1,238) = 6.79). Moreover, reduced striatal volume (F(1,238) = 6.9) was observed in patients. This large-scale study indicates structural thalamic abnormalities in patients with migraine. The thalamic nuclei with abnormal volumes are densely connected to the limbic system. The data hence lend support to the view that higher-order integration systems are altered in migraine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13800-13806
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number40
StatePublished - 7 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain volumes
  • Deep gray matter
  • MRI
  • Migraine
  • Thalamic nuclei
  • Thalamus


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