Journal of Neurology

, Volume 238, Supplement 1, pp S28–S35

Pharmacology of antimigraine drugs

  • P. R. Saxena
  • M. O. Den Boer
Review Of Migraine And Its Therapy

DOI: 10.1007/BF01642903

Cite this article as:
Saxena, P.R. & Den Boer, M.O. J Neurol (1991) 238(Suppl 1): S28. doi:10.1007/BF01642903


The drugs used in migraine therapy can be divided into two groups: agents that abort an established migraine attack and agents used prophylactically to reduce the number of migraine attacks. Both groups have drugs that are specific for migrainous headaches and that are non-specific, and are used to treat the accompanying headache (analgesics), vomiting (anti-emetics), anxiety (sedatives and anxiolytics), or depression (antidepressants). The main drugs with specific action on migraine include ergot alkaloids (ergotamine, dihydroergotamine), agonists (sumatriptan) or partial agonists (methysergide) at a specific subtype of 5-HT1-like receptors, β-adrenoceptor antagonists (propranolol, metoprolol), calcium antagonists (flunarizine) and anti-inflammatory agents (indomethacin). The pharmacological basis of therapeutic action of several of these drugs is not well understood. In the case of the ergot alkaloids and 5-HT1-like receptor agonists, however, it is likely that the antimigraine effect is related to the potent and rather selective constriction of the large arteries and arteriovenous anastomoses in the scalp and dural regions. In addition, these drugs inhibit plasma extravasation into the dura in response to trigeminal ganglion stimulation, but it is possible that this effect is related to the selective vasoconstriction in the extracerebral vascular bed. The selectivity of the pharmacological effects of these antimigraine drugs (constriction of the extracerebral arteries and arteriovenous anastomoses, poor penetration into the central nervous system and the absence of an antinociceptive effect even after intrathecal administration) strongly suggests that excessive dilatation in the extracerebral cranial vasculature, probably initiated by a neuronal event, is an integral part of the pathophysiology of migraine.

Key words

Antimigraine drugsMigrainePathophysiologyPharmacologyProphylaxis

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. R. Saxena
    • 1
  • M. O. Den Boer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of MedicineErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands