A new hypothesis linking oxytocin to menstrual migraine

Vimala N. Bharadwaj, Frank Porreca, Robert P. Cowan, Shashidhar Kori, Stephen D. Silberstein, David C. Yeomans

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: To highlight the emerging understanding of oxytocin (OT) and oxytocin receptors (OTRs) in modulating menstrual-related migraine (MRM). Background: MRM is highly debilitating and less responsive to therapy, and attacks are of longer duration than nonmenstrually related migraine. A clear understanding of the mechanisms underlying MRM is lacking. Methods: We present a narrative literature review on the developing understanding of the role of OT and the OTR in MRM. Literature on MRM on PubMed/MEDLINE database including clinical trials and basic science publications was reviewed using specific keywords. Results: OT is a cyclically released hypothalamic hormone/neurotransmitter that binds to the OTR resulting in inhibition of trigeminal neuronal excitability that can promote migraine pain including that of MRM. Estrogen regulates OT release as well as expression of the OTR. Coincident with menstruation, levels of both estrogen and OT decrease. Additionally, other serum biochemical factors, including magnesium and cholesterol, which positively modulate the affinity of OT for OTRs, both decrease during menstruation. Thus, during menstruation, multiple menstrually associated factors may lead to decreased circulating OT levels, decreased OT affinity for OTR, and decreased expression of the trigeminal OTR. Consistent with the view of migraine as a threshold disorder, these events may collectively result in decreased inhibition promoting lower thresholds for activation of meningeal trigeminal nociceptors and increasing the likelihood of an MRM attack. Conclusion: Trigeminal OTR may thus be a novel target for the development of MRM therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1051-1059
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • estrogen
  • magnesium
  • menstrual migraine
  • oxytocin
  • oxytocin receptor
  • therapeutics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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