Serotonin receptors are highly heterogeneous and they have been regrouped within seven different families (5-HT1-5-HT7). With the exception of the 5-HT3 which is a ligand-gated ion channel, all others are G-protein coupled receptors with each family sharing structural, pharmacological and transductional characteristics. 5-HT receptors have been implicated in the regulation of several psychiatric and neurological disorders related to serotonergic neurotransmission, and specific receptor subtypes have recently been associated with either the pathogenesis or the treatment of migraine headache. In this respect, activation of vascular 5-HT2B and/or 5-HT7 receptors, possibly as a consequence of the sudden rise in 5-HT levels reported at the onset of a migraine attack, would hypothetically result in dilation of cerebral blood vessels and concomitant activation of sensory trigeminovascular afferents, hence initiating the manifestation of head pain. At this stage in the migraine process, activation of specific subtypes of 5-HT1 receptors has proven clinically effective in relieving migraine pain. Neural 5-HT1D and/or 5-HT1F receptors localized pre-junctionally on trigeminovascular afferents appear to mediate the triptan-induced inhibition of the neurogenic inflammatory response, with possible additional sites of action for brain penetrant 5-HT1 receptor agonists in inhibiting the transmission of pain centrally. In contrast, activation of vascular 5-HT1B receptors would constrict meningeal vessels hence recovering their pre-migraine diameter. The recent availability of subtype selective 5-HT1D and 5-HT1F receptor agonists should allow a further test of the neural/vascular hypothesis and could possibly lead to antimigraine drugs with a safer cardiovascular profile.
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