Recognizing CADASIL: a Secondary Cause of Migraine with Aura

  • John Glenn Burkett
  • Carrie Dougherty
Uncommon and/or Unusual Headaches and Syndromes (J Ailani, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Uncommon and/or Unusual Headaches and Syndromes


Purpose of Review

CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) is an important disease to consider in the differential diagnosis of migraine with aura. This review examines current literature regarding migraine in CADASIL, as well as diagnostic and treatment modalities.

Recent Findings

Recent studies have shown that smoking is a modifiable risk factor for progression of CADASIL (Chabriat et al. in Stroke 47:4–11, 2015). Specific imaging changes and findings on clinical exam can predict disease progression. However, migraine symptoms often precede MRI changes (Guey et al. in Cephalalgia 36:1038–47, 2015). A recent paper on migraine treatment in CADASIL reevaluates the prevailing belief that vasoconstrictive abortive medications are contraindicated in these patients (Tan and Markus in PLoS ONE 11:e0157613, 2016).


CADASIL is an autosomal dominantly inherited vasculopathy causing ischemic pathology in younger individuals due to a mutation in the NOTCH3 gene. The mutation results in impaired arterial contractility due to accumulation of granular osmiophilic extracellular material (GOM) in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). Clinical manifestations include migraine with and without aura, cognitive decline, ischemic events, and mood disorders. The presenting symptom is often migraine with aura. Characteristic MRI changes are often present. Genetic screening is available to confirm NOTCH3 mutation and pathognomic changes are often seen in skin biopsy. Treatment of migraine is similar to the general population, but with some notable and specific differences. Further studies in CADASIL, other small vessel arteriopathies, and migraine may help us understand more about the pathophysiology of these conditions and help with treatment development.


Migraine Aura CADASIL Arteriopathy Cerebral infarction Leukoencephalopathy NOTCH3 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Dr. John Glenn Burkett and Dr. Carrie Dougherty each declare no potential conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of NeurologyMedStar Georgetown University HospitalWashingtonUSA

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