Comparison of gray matter volume between migraine and “strict-criteria” tension-type headache

Wei Ta Chen*, Kun Hsien Chou, Pei Lin Lee, Fu Jung Hsiao, David M. Niddam, Kuan Lin Lai, Jong Ling Fuh, Ching Po Lin, Shuu Jiun Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: Despite evidently distinct symptoms, tension-type headache (TTH) and migraine are highly comorbid and exhibit many similarities in clinical practice. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether both types of headaches are similar in brain morphology. Methods: Consecutive patients with TTH and age- and sex-matched patients with migraine and healthy controls were enrolled for brain magnetic resonance imaging examination. Patients with TTH were excluded if they reported any headache features or associated symptoms of migraine. Changes in gray matter (GM) volume associated with headache diagnosis (TTH vs. migraine) and frequency (episodic vs. chronic) were examined using voxel-based morphometry. The correlation with headache profile and the discriminative ability between TTH and migraine were also investigated for these GM changes. Results: In comparison with controls (n = 43), the patients with TTH (25 episodic and 24 chronic) exhibited a GM volume increase in the anterior cingulate cortex, supramarginal gyrus, temporal pole, lateral occipital cortex, and caudate. The patients with migraine (31 episodic and 25 chronic) conversely exhibited a GM volume decrease in the orbitofrontal cortex. These GM changes did not correlate with any headache profile. A voxel-wise 2 × 2 factorial analysis further revealed the substantial effects of headache types and frequency in the comparison of GM volume between TTH and migraine. Specifically, the migraine group (vs. TTH) had a GM decrease in the superior and middle frontal gyri, cerebellum, dorsal striatum, and precuneus. The chronic group (vs. episodic group) otherwise demonstrated a GM decrease in the bilateral insula and anterior cingulate cortex. In receiver operating characteristic analysis, the GM volumes of the left superior frontal gyrus and right cerebellum V combined had good discriminative ability for distinguishing TTH and migraine (area under the curve = 0.806). Conclusions: TTH and migraine are separate headache disorders with different characteristics in relation to GM changes. The major morphological difference between the two types of headaches is the relative GM decrease of the prefrontal and cerebellar regions in migraine, which may reflect a higher allostatic load associated with this disabling headache.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Gray matter
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Migraine
  • Tension-type headache
  • Voxel-based morphometry


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