Updated 04 July 2014

Gene discoveries could give insight into migraine

Five newly identified genetic regions linked to the onset of migraine could boost scientists' understanding of its causes, researchers say.


Five newly identified genetic regions linked to the onset of migraine could boost scientists' understanding of what drives the painful headaches, researchers say.

"This study has greatly advanced our biological insight about the cause of migraine," Dr Aarno Palotie, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, said in an institute news release. Migraine is difficult to study, he added, because "between episodes the patient is basically healthy, so it's extremely difficult to uncover biochemical clues".

In their research, Palotie's team pinpointed five genetic regions tied to migraine. They did so after analysing the results of 29 different genetic studies, involving more than 100 000 samples from people with and without migraines.

Some of the five regions are close to a network of genes that are sensitive to oxidative stress, a biochemical process that leads to improper functioning of cells. The researchers believe that many of the genes in regions associated with migraine are interconnected and may be disrupting the internal regulation of tissue and cells in the brain, resulting in some of the symptoms of migraine.

The researchers also identified another 134 genetic regions that are possibly associated with migraine susceptibility.

Migraine affects about 14% of adults, and according to the researchers this was the largest study of migraine genetics to date.

"We would not have made discoveries by studying smaller groups of individuals," study co-author Dr Gisela Terwindt, of Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said in the news release. Having such a large study population "means we can tease out the genes that are important suspects and follow them up in the lab".

More information

The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraine.


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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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