Hypersensitivity to PACAP-38 in post-traumatic headache: a randomized clinical trial

Haidar M Al-Khazali, Rune H Christensen, David W Dodick, Basit Ali Chaudhry, Faisal Mohammad Amin, Rami Burstein, Håkan Ashina*

*Corresponding author for this work
3 Citations (Scopus)


Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide-38 (PACAP-38), known for its role in migraine pathogenesis, has been identified as a novel drug target. Given the clinical parallels between post-traumatic headache (PTH) and migraine, we explored the possible role of PACAP-38 in the pathogenesis of PTH. To this end, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-way crossover trial involving adult participants diagnosed with persistent PTH resulting from mild traumatic brain injury. Participants were randomly assigned to receive a 20-min continuous intravenous infusion of either PACAP-38 (10 pmol/kg/min) or placebo (isotonic saline) on two separate experimental days, with a 1-week washout period in between. The primary outcome was the difference in incidence of migraine-like headache between PACAP-38 and placebo during a 12-h observational period post-infusion. The secondary outcome was the difference in the area under the curve (AUC) for baseline-corrected median headache intensity scores during the same 12-h observational period. Of 49 individuals assessed for eligibility, 21 were enrolled and completed the trial. The participants had a mean age of 35.2 years, and 16 (76%) were female. Most [19 of 21 (90%)] had a migraine-like phenotype. During the 12-h observational period, 20 of 21 (95%) participants developed migraine-like headache after intravenous infusion of PACAP-38, compared with two (10%) participants after placebo (P < 0.001). Furthermore, the baseline-corrected AUC values for median headache intensity scores during the 12-h observational period was higher after PACAP-38 than placebo (P < 0.001). These compelling results demonstrate that PACAP-38 is potent inducer of migraine-like headache in people with persistent PTH. Thus, targeting PACAP-38 signalling might be a promising avenue for the treatment of PTH.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain : a journal of neurology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1312-1320
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2024


  • concussion
  • headache disorders
  • migraine
  • pathophysiology
  • trigeminovascular system


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