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Heightened Brain Connectivity May Explain Light and Sound Sensitivity With Migraine

Many people living with migraine disease experience light and sound sensitivity, and researchers recently determined they have heightened connectivity between specific areas of the brain. This finding may help in the development of migraine treatments, said lead author Amy R. Tso, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco.

In a study of 15 patients with migraine without aura, researchers used a functional MRI to evaluate the areas of the brain involved in processing visual and auditory information. They found that there was increased connectivity between primary visual and auditory cortices, where visual and auditory information is processed; the pons, which serves as a communication center in the brain; and the anterior insula, a region involved in coordinating responses to matters of emotional importance.

This heightened connectivity between the anterior insula and the visual and auditory cortices may explain why stimuli such as bright lights and loud noises that do not bother most people are problematic for migraineurs, the authors said. Particular sensitivities are found in other headache disorders, and Dr. Tso noted further research will be needed to determine if the brain wiring found in this study is also present in other types of headache.

Additionally, the authors noted that anxiety is common among migraineurs, and this type of brain connectivity has been found in patients with anxiety disorders, but more research is needed to understand the picture clearly.

“It isn’t clear whether this inter-insula connectivity is something that predisposes you to migraine and also to anxiety, or whether it’s just a marker of having both conditions,” Dr. Tso said.

This study appeared in the journal Neurology.

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