Group of genes hold the clue in migraine cases

Scientists have discovered a group of genes that predispose people to migraine. Flickr/mickebear

Researchers have identified four new genes linked to the most common form of migraine, in a discovery that could eventually aid in the development of treatments for the debilitating attacks.

A team of Australian and European scientists found six genetic variants among the DNA code of 4800 people who suffer from “migraine without aura”, which affects 12% of the population and accounts for more than 60% of all migraines. Four of the genes are new and two confirm previous findings.

The study, by the International Headache Genetics Consortium, appears in the journal Nature Genetics.

The variants were absent among more than 7000 people who do not suffer from the debilitating headaches, which can last up to three days and cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

The less common “migraine with aura” produces the sensation of flashing light, blind spots and tingling in the hand or face.

Studies show that 6-8% of men and 15-18% of women suffer from migraines, which are a major cause of absence from work. Frequent sufferers use preventive therapies such as beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs or Botox shots.

Although scientists do not know the precise cause of the neurovascular brain disorder, they suspect it occurs when molecules that transmit signals between brain neurons act irregularly. Two of the newly identified genes support another theory that disturbances in blood flow play a role.

“Studies of this kind are possible only through large-scale international collaboration - bringing together the wealth of data with the right expertise and resources. The identified genes open new doors to investigate how this type of migraine comes about,” said Dr Arn van den Maagdenberg, one of the senior authors on the paper.

Lyn Griffiths, the Director of the Griffith Institute of Health and Medical Research at Griffith University, said the research was compelling because it involved “a very significant number of migraine cases, it was the first focused [migraine without aura] study - an area under-researched in terms of genetics - and it adds to our information regarding the genetic basis of migraine.

"This research has contributed to our understanding of the common forms of migraine and ultimately may aid in developing better diagnosis and treatment of migraine and its sub-types.”

Professor Griffiths, who was not involved in the international study, recently completed separate research identifying a new region on the X chromosome that also plays a part in migraine.

The research indicates that more than one X chromosomal gene may be involved, and implicates a gene that contributes to iron regulation in the brain.

Whereas females have two X chromosomes, males have an X and a Y chromosome. “These results provide more support for the role of the X chromosome in migraine and may explain why so many more females suffer from the disorder,” Professor Griffiths said.