14 January 2010

Migraine, depression may have genetic link

Two seemingly unrelated problems might share a genetic component that may make some people more likely to suffer from both migraine and depression, Dutch researchers report.


Two seemingly unrelated problems might share a genetic component that may make some people more likely to suffer from both migraine and depression, Dutch researchers report.

The connection between migraine and depression has been examined before, but these researchers show that genetics may be the missing link between these two conditions.

"Migraine and depression co-occur far more frequently within subjects than to be expected by chance," said lead researcher Dr Gisela M Terwindt, an assistant professor of neurology at Leiden University Medical Centre.

"This relationship is bidirectional; migraine patients have an increased risk to develop depression and, vice versa, depressed subjects have an increased risk of getting migraine attacks," she said.

The report is published in the January 13 online edition of Neurology.

Genetic contribution estimated

For the report, Terwindt's team collected data on 2 652 people who took part in the Erasmus Rucphen Family study and were all descendants of 22 couples who lived in Rucphen in the 1850s to 1900s.

Among these people, 360 suffered from migraine, 151 of them had migraine with aura, and 977 had depression.

In the latter type of migraine, the headache is preceded by flashes of light. Twenty-five percent of those with migraines also suffered from depression, compared to 13% of those without migraines, the researchers found.

Using this data, Terwindt's group was able to estimate the genetic contribution to both migraine and depression. They found that genetics explained 56% of all migraine. For migraine with aura, genetics accounted for 96%.

Shared genetic component

In addition, when they looked at the genetics of having both migraine and depression, the researchers found a shared genetic component, particularly for migraine with aura, Terwindt said.

"Migraine patients have, at least partly, a genetic predisposition for depression," she noted.

In the future, knowing the genetics of these conditions may lead to better treatment and possibly prevention, she said.

"Identification of common genetic factors may significantly improve the insight into the molecular basis of both migraine and depression," Terwindt said.

"This may help in the future to get more insight in the common pathophysiological process underlying both of these disabling disorders. This will, hopefully, lead to prevention of chronic migraine and development of tailored prophylactic treatments."

Environmental triggers

Dr Gretchen E Tietjen, chairperson of neurology and director of the Headache Treatment and Research Programme at University of Toledo Medical Centre in Ohio, said that while genetics play a part in both migraine and depression, it may well take an environmental trigger to actually produce either condition.

Tietjen recently published a series of studies that found that children who experienced abuse or neglect were more likely to suffer from migraine and depression as adults.

"Physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and physical and emotional neglect were strongly tied to depression and other conditions that are found with migraine," she said.

Tietjen noted that stress in early life can permanently change the brain.

"Genetics is really important, and environment probably is important for turning some of these things on," she added. - (Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News, January 2010)


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