Headache

27 June 2016

All migraines may not have the same genetic cause

Doctors have known for a long time that migraine patients differ from each other, and that the drugs that work for some patients don't work for others.

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An international team of scientists has identified dozens of new genetic variants associated with migraine headaches.

Personalised treatments

The researchers say their findings could lead to new treatments.

Most of the variants are in or close to genes involved in circulatory system regulation. This supports the theory that abnormal blood vessel function in the brain is an important factor in migraines, the investigators said.

"These genetic findings are the first concrete step towards developing personalised, evidence-based treatments for this very complex disease. 

Read: The best medication for migraines

We doctors have known for a long time that migraine patients differ from each other and the drugs that work for some patients are completely inefficient for others," said John-Anker Zwart, of Oslo University Hospital in Norway, who participated in the research.

"In the future, we hope that this information can be utilised in dividing the patients into different genetic susceptibility groups for clinical drug trials, thus increasing the chances of identifying the best possible treatment for each subgroup," he added in a news release from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

New genetic variants

Migraine affects about 1 in 7 people worldwide.

The findings stem from analysis of DNA samples taken from 375,000 Europeans, Americans and Australians. Nearly 60,000 were migraine sufferers.

Read: Migraine triggers

The team pinpointed nearly 30 new genetic variants linked with migraine. The variants are in 38 genomic regions, only 10 of which have previously been associated with migraine risk.

"Our consortium is devoted to uncovering the genetic causes of migraine, and during the past few years we have been able to identify many risk variants," said Dr Aarno Palotie, leader of the International Headache Genetics Consortium, which coordinated the study.

"Yet, in this latest, large-scale study, tens of new genetic risk factors were discovered," added Palotie, from the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit Centre for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"Because all of these variants modify the disease risk only slightly, the effect could only be seen when this large amount of samples became available," he noted.

The study was published online June 20 in the journal Nature Genetics.

Read more:

What is a migraine?

Causes of migraines

Treating migraines

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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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