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Visual Metacontrast Masking In Migraine

Alex J Shepherd, Geddes Wyatt, Marc S Tibber

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Background: In visual metacontrast masking, the visibility of a brief target stimulus can be reduced substantially if it is preceded (forward masking) or followed (backward masking) by a non-overlapping mask. These effects have been attributed to inhibitory processes within the visual system. Two previous studies have used metacontrast masking to assess inhibitory function in migraine and control groups, however, each used different types of masking and obtained different results. Subjects and Methods: Forward, backward and combined forward and backward masking were compared in migraine (15 with visual aura, 15 without) and control ( n = 15) groups. Baseline trials were also included (target only). Results: For all types of masking, both migraine groups were more accurate than the control group. When performance for the masking trials was expressed relative to baseline, however, there were no significant group differences. Performance in certain conditions nevertheless correlated significantly with migraine frequency and with the recency of the last attack. Conclusions: The inhibitory processes involved in the masking tasks employed in this study do not appear to be impaired in migraine. Their better overall performance may reflect a sensitivity difference, perhaps as a consequence of a heightened neuronal response, which varies with the migraine cycle.