BackgroundPopulation-based studies have highlighted a close relationship between migraine and stroke. Migraine, especially with aura, is a risk factor for both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Interestingly, stroke risk is highest for migraineurs who are young and otherwise healthy.Main bodyPreclinical models have provided us with possible mechanisms to explain the increased vulnerability of migraineurs' brains towards ischemia and suggest a key role for enhanced cerebral excitability and increased incidence of microembolic events. Spreading depolarization (SD), a slowly propagating wave of neuronal depolarization, is the electrophysiologic event underlying migraine aura and a known headache trigger. Increased SD susceptibility has been demonstrated in migraine animal models, including transgenic mice carrying human mutations for the migraine-associated syndrome CADASIL and familial hemiplegic migraine (type 1 and 2). Upon experimentally induced SD, these mice develop aura-like neurological symptoms, akin to patients with the respective mutations. Migraine mutant mice also exhibit an increased frequency of ischemia-triggered SDs upon experimental stroke, associated with accelerated infarct growth and worse outcomes. The severe stroke phenotype can be explained by SD-related downstream events that exacerbate the metabolic mismatch, including pericyte contraction and neuroglial inflammation. Pharmacological suppression of the genetically enhanced SD susceptibility normalizes the stroke phenotype in familial hemiplegic migraine mutant mice. Recent epidemiologic and imaging studies suggest that these preclinical findings can be extrapolated to migraine patients. Migraine patients are at risk for particularly cardioembolic stroke. At the same time, studies suggest an increased incidence of coagulopathy, atrial fibrillation and patent foramen ovale among migraineurs, providing a possible path for microembolic induction of SD and, in rare instances, stroke in hyperexcitable brains. Indeed, recent imaging studies document an accelerated infarct progression with only little potentially salvageable brain tissue in acute stroke patients with a migraine history, suggesting an increased vulnerability towards cerebral ischemia.ConclusionPreclinical models suggest a key role for enhanced SD susceptibility and microembolization to explain both the occurrence of migraine attacks and the increased stroke risk in migraineurs. Therapeutic targeting of SD and microembolic events, or potential causes thereof, will be promising for treatment of aura and may also prevent ischemic infarction in vulnerable brains.