Five Questions With: Christopher Moore

"Despite the prevalence of migraine disorders, and decades of work on them, they remain particularly mysterious."

Christopher Moore is an associate professor at the Brown University Institute for Brain Science. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin and his Ph.D. in brain and cognitive science from MIT. His laboratory work at Brown focuses on neocortical dynamics, changes in activity that occur on millisecond to second time scales. He and a team of three other Institute for Brain Science faculty members – Diane Lipscombe, Julie Kauer, and Carl Saab – were recently awarded a grant of $100,000 by the Association of Migraine Disorders in North Kingstown to seek to identify the cells and circuits that cause migraine and possible opportunities for creating therapies.

PBN: When examining the science of migraines, the many levels of looking at the brain (behavior, circuitry, cellular, molecular) start to stand out in stark relief. Are there ways in which it remains early days for migraine research specifically, and for brain research more generally?
Despite the prevalence of migraine disorders, and decades of work on them, they remain particularly mysterious. Like many other disorders that we are realizing are far more multifaceted and complex (such as Autism), migraine has now been found to have many possible originating mechanisms, and many ties to other disorders that previously were viewed as independent. That said, genetic models and recent innovations in understanding brain circuits, and particularly those that let us perceive pain, are providing a lot of promising avenues.

PBN: How is a team approach at Brown and with the Association of Migraine Disorders grappling with the brain’s complexity as well as the complexity of migraines?
The team at Brown is really exciting to be a part of – we have world-class scientists at all the levels one needs to integrate to attack this complex disorder, ranging from leaders in the study of single ion channels and the plasticity of neurons and circuits, all the way up to experts in whole brain function during complex behavior and pain. Migraine is too complex and multi-faceted a riddle to be cracked by just one level of analysis – it takes a team like this.
The Association of Migraine Disorders has already proven to be the ideal partner for us. They understand migraine as well as anyone in all its clinical manifestations, the connections between this disorder and other maladies, and have real savvy about the potential mechanisms driving it. Put simply, they are doctors and scientists, in addition to being advocates, so working with them is a great experience. The members of the team at Brown were poised to want to take on a major challenge like this, and partnering with the Association has been the perfect catalyzing event.

PBN: About what portion of the population suffers from migraines?
Five to 10 percent of men and 15 to 20 percent of women are estimates often stated.

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PBN: What things, if any, that were “known” about migraines a generation ago are no longer considered to be true?
One of the most interesting such facts is that migraine was initial believed to be a disorder driven by vascular problems, but then this view fell out of vogue. With the advent of novel, more sophisticated tools and new awareness of how blood vessels interact with neurons, this view is making a resurgence in new and improved form.

PBN: Is the research that this grant covers largely to develop medications, or is it more open-ended than that?
The initial research has to be basic. There’s a great phrase about how to do science that matters – ‘go after roots not fruits’ – meaning go for foundational advances don’t just cherry-pick and look for easy (usually unsuccessful) clinical answers. Our team and this partnership hope to dive deep and in doing so lay the foundations for a meaningful clinical strategy.