Transcranial magnetic stimulation of visual cortex in migraine patients: A systematic review with meta-analysis

Francesco Brigo, Monica Storti, Raffaele Nardone, Antonio Fiaschi, Luigi Giuseppe Bongiovanni, Frediano Tezzon, Paolo Manganotti

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We systematically reviewed the literature to evaluate the prevalence of phosphenes and the phosphene threshold (PT) values obtained during single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in adults with migraine. Controlled studies measuring PT by single-pulse TMS in adults with migraine with or without aura (MA, MwA) were systematically searched. Prevalence of phosphenes and PT values were assessed calculating mean difference (MD) and odds ratio (OR) with 95 % confidence intervals (CI). Ten trials (277 migraine patients and 193 controls) were included. Patients with MA had statistically significant lower PT compared with controls when a circular coil was used (MD -28.33; 95 % CI -36.09 to -20.58); a similar result was found in MwA patients (MD -17.12; 95 % CI -23.81 to -10.43); using a figure-of-eight coil the difference was not statistically significant. There was a significantly higher phosphene prevalence in MA patients compared with control subjects (OR 4.21; 95 % CI 1.18-15.01). No significant differences were found either in phosphene reporting between patients with MwA and controls, or in PT values obtained with a figure-of-eight coil in MA and MwA patients versus controls. Overall considered, these results support the hypothesis of a primary visual cortex hyper-excitability in MA, providing not enough evidence for MwA. A significant statistical heterogeneity reflects clinical and methodological differences across studies, and higher temporal variabilities among PT measurements over time, related to unstable excitability levels. Patients should therefore be evaluated in the true interictal period with an adequate headache-free interval. Furthermore, skull thickness and ovarian cycle should be assessed as possible confounding variables, and sham stimulation should be performed to reduce the rate of false positives. Phosphene prevalence alone cannot be considered a measure of cortical excitability, but should be integrated with PT evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-349
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • Meta-analysis
  • Migraine
  • Phosphenes
  • Systematic review
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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