13 June 2011

Gene linked to migraines found

Scientists have uncovered a trio of genes tied to migraine headaches, including one in which the link is exclusive to women, according to a study published.


Scientists have uncovered a trio of genes tied to migraine headaches, including one in which the link is exclusive to women, according to a study published.

Migraines are acutely debilitating headaches, sometimes with an "aura", in which patients have the impression of seeing through frosted glass, that strike up to 20% of the population.

Scientists describe the condition, which is three to four times more common in women, as a brain disorder in which neurons, or brain cells, respond abnormally to stimuli.

The precise cause it is unknown, but inheritance is thought to play a significant role.

To assess the genetic component, Markus Schuerks of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston coordinated an international sweep of genomes in 23,230 women, 5,122 of whom suffered from migraines.

So-called genome-wide association studies compare differences between individuals across the approximately three billion pairs of basic molecular building blocks found in the human genetic code.

The study, published in the British journal Nature Genetics, is the largest to date of its kind. It found variations in three genes that showed up more frequently in migraine patients.

The genes

Two of them, known as PRDM16 and TRPM8, were specific to migraines, as opposed to other kinds of headaches.

TRPM8, in addition, was linked to migraines only in women. Earlier studies have shown that the same gene contains the genetic "blueprint" for a pain sensor, in both men and women.

The third suspect gene, LRP1, is involved in sensing the external world and in chemical pathways inside the brain.

"The brain of a person with migraine responds differently to certain stimuli, their nerve cells 'talk' differently to each other," explained Shuerks in an email.

Special roles

"Many neurotransmitters are involved in this cross-talk and some seem to have a special role in migraines. LRP1 interacts with some of these neurotransmitter pathways and may thus modulate nerve responses that promote or suppress migraine attacks."

None of the genetic variants appeared to be connected specifically to migraines with or without auras.

The findings, published in Nature Genetics, were replicated in two smaller population-based studies, one in the Netherlands and the other in Germany, and in a clinical group followed by the International Headache Genetics Consortium.

"Inheritance of any of the genetic variants alters migraine risk by about 10% to 15% ," said Schuerks.

The influence of these genes is probably not large enough to be immediately used as a diagnostic tool. But the result "is an advancement of the understanding of migraine biology," he said.

(Sapa, June 2011)

Read more:

Headache and migraine

Make it go away...


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

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.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules