The hypothalamus has been attributed an important role during the premonitory phase of a migraine attack. Less is known about the role played by the hypothalamus in the interictal period and its relationship with the putative neurocognitive networks previously identified in the pathophysiology of migraine. Our aim was to test whether the hypothalamic microstructure would be altered during the interictal period and whether this co-existed with aberrant connectivity at cortical level. We collected multimodal MRI data from 20 untreated patients with migraine without aura between attacks (MO) and 20 healthy controls (HC) and studied fractional anisotropy, mean (MD), radial (RD), and axial diffusivity of the hypothalamus ROI as a whole from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Moreover, we performed an exploratory analysis of the same DTI metrics separately for the anterior and posterior hypothalamic ROIs bilaterally. From resting-state functional MRI, we estimated the Higuchi's fractal dimension (FD), an index of temporal complexity sensible to describe non-periodic patterns characterizing BOLD signature. Finally, we correlated neuroimaging findings with migraine clinical features. In comparison to HC, MO had significantly higher MD, AD, and RD values within the hypothalamus. These findings were confirmed also in the exploratory analysis on the sub-regions of the hypothalamus bilaterally, with the addition of lower FA values on the posterior ROIs. Patients showed higher FD values within the salience network (SN) and the cerebellum, and lower FD values within the primary visual (PV) network compared to HC. We found a positive correlation between cerebellar and SN FD values and severity of migraine. Our findings of hypothalamic abnormalities between migraine attacks may form part of the neuroanatomical substrate that predisposes the onset of the prodromal phase and, therefore, the initiation of an attack. The peculiar fractal dimensionality we found in PV, SN, and cerebellum may be interpreted as an expression of abnormal efficiency demand of brain networks devoted to the integration of sensory, emotional, and cognitive information related to the severity of migraine.
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Funding: The contribution of the G.B. Bietti Foundation in this paper was supported by the Italian Ministry of Health and Fondazione Roma.