Migraine with visual aura associated with thicker visual cortex

David Gaist*, Anders Hougaard, Ellen Garde, Nina Linde Reislev, Rikke Wiwie, Pernille Iversen, Camilla Gøbel Madsen, Morten Blaabjerg, Helle Hvilsted Nielsen, Thomas Krøigard, Kamilla Østergaard, Kirsten Ohm Kyvik, Jacob Hjelmborg, Kristoffer Madsen, Hartwig Roman Siebner, Messoud Ashina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Until recent years it was believed that migraine with aura was a disorder causing intermittent neurological symptoms, with no impact on brain structure. However, recent MRI studies have reported increased cortical thickness of visual and somatosensory areas in patients with migraine with aura, suggesting that such structural alterations were either due to increased neuronal density in the areas involved, or a result of multiple episodes of cortical spreading depression as part of aura attacks. Subsequent studies have yielded conflicting results, possibly due to methodological reasons, e.g. small number of subjects. In this cross-sectional study, we recruited females aged 30-60 years from the nationwide Danish Twin Registry. Brain MRI of females with migraine with aura (patients), their co-twins, and unrelated migraine-free twins (controls) were performed at a single centre and assessed for cortical thickness in predefined cortical areas (V1, V2, V3A, MT, somatosensory cortex), blinded to headache diagnoses. The difference in cortical thickness between patients and controls adjusted for age, and other potential confounders was assessed. Comparisons of twin pairs discordant for migraine with aura were also performed. Comparisons were based on 166 patients, 30 co-twins, and 137 controls. Compared with controls, patients had a thicker cortex in areas V2 [adjusted mean difference 0.032 mm (95% confidence interval 0.003 to 0.061), V3A [adjusted mean difference 0.037 mm (95% confidence interval 0.008 to 0.067)], while differences in the remaining areas examined were not statistically significant [adjusted mean difference (95% confidence interval): V1 0.022 (-0.007 to 0.052); MT: 0.018 (-0.011 to 0.047); somatosensory cortex: 0.020 (-0.009 to 0.049)]. We found no association between the regions of interest and active migraine, or number of lifetime aura attacks. Migraine with aura discordant twin pairs (n = 30) only differed in mean thickness of V2 (0.039 mm, 95% CI 0.005 to 0.074). In conclusion, females with migraine with aura have a thicker cortex corresponding to visual areas and our results indicate this may be an inherent trait rather than a result of repeated aura attacks.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)776-785
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Cortical thickness
  • Headache: imaging
  • Migraine
  • Migraine with aura
  • Visual cortex

Cite this

Gaist, D., Hougaard, A., Garde, E., Reislev, N. L., Wiwie, R., Iversen, P., Madsen, C. G., Blaabjerg, M., Nielsen, H. H., Krøigard, T., Østergaard, K., Kyvik, K. O., Hjelmborg, J., Madsen, K., Siebner, H. R., & Ashina, M. (2018). Migraine with visual aura associated with thicker visual cortex. Brain, 141(3), 776-785. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awx382