Migraine is the most frequent type of headache in children. In the 1980s, scientists first hypothesized a connection between migraine and mitochondrial (mt) disorders. More recent studies have suggested that at least some subtypes of migraine may be related to a mt defect. Different types of evidence support a relationship between mitochondria (mt) and migraine: (1) Biochemical evidence: Abnormal mt function translates into high intracellular penetration of Ca(2+), excessive production of free radicals, and deficient oxidative phosphorylation, which ultimately causes energy failure in neurons and astrocytes, thus triggering migraine mechanisms, including spreading depression. The mt markers of these events are low activity of superoxide dismutase, activation of cytochrome-c oxidase and nitric oxide, high levels of lactate and pyruvate, and low ratios of phosphocreatine-inorganic phosphate and N-acetylaspartate-choline. (2) Morphologic evidence: mt abnormalities have been shown in migraine sufferers, the most characteristic ones being direct observation in muscle biopsy of ragged red and cytochrome-c oxidase-negative fibers, accumulation of subsarcolemmal mt, and demonstration of giant mt with paracrystalline inclusions. (3) Genetic evidence: Recent studies have identified specific mutations responsible for migraine susceptibility. However, the investigation of the mtDNA mutations found in classic mt disorders (mt encephalomyopathy with lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes, myoclonus epilepsy with ragged red fibers, Kearns-Sayre syndrome, and Leber hereditary optic neuropathy) has not demonstrated any association. Recently, 2 common mtDNA polymorphisms (16519C→T and 3010G→A) have been associated with pediatric cyclic vomiting syndrome and migraine. Also, POLG mutations (eg, p.T851 A, p.N468D, p.Y831C, p.G517V, and p.P163S) can cause disease through impaired replication of mtDNA, including migraine. Further studies to investigate the relationship between mtDNA and migraine will require very large sample sizes to obtain statistically significant results. (4) Therapeutic evidence: Several agents that have a positive effect on mt metabolism have shown to be effective in the treatment of migraines. The agents include riboflavin (B2), coenzyme Q10, magnesium, niacin, carnitine, topiramate, and lipoic acid. Further study is warranted to learn how mt interact with other factors to cause migraines. This will facilitate the development of new and more specific treatments that will reduce the frequency or severity or both of this disease.
Yorns WR Jr, Hardison HH. Mitochondrial dysfunction in migraine. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2013 September