Migraine a Genetic Disorder

September 27, 2010

New research shows that a genetic defect is key to the triggering of migraines.

New research, led by investigators at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Functional Genomics Unit based at the University of Oxford and colleagues in Canada, has identified a defect in a specific gene as a key cause of migraines.

The gene, TRESK, was discovered by studying DNA samples from people with common familial migraine, with researchers finding that a defect in the gene causes sensitive pain centers in the brain to be more easily triggered by environmental factors, resulting in severe headaches.

“We have now made a major step forward in our understanding of why people suffer with migraine and how in certain cases, your family can literally give you a headache!” said Dr. Zameel Cader, MRC Functional Genomics Unit. “Previous studies have identified parts of our DNA that increase the risk in the general population but have not found genes which can be directly responsible for common migraine. What we’ve found is that migraines seem to depend on how sensitive our nerves are in the pain centres of the brain. This finding should help lead to the key player which controls this excitability and will give us a real opportunity to find a new way to fight migraines and improve the quality of life for those suffering.”

Adding to Cader’s thoughts, Dr Aarno Palotie, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told the BBC the finding could lead to new drugs target the genetic disorder. “It opens new avenues for planning new research which possibly could then lead to new treatments... but of course it's a long road," he said. Cader added, “So what we want to do is find a drug that will activate the gene.”

The significance of the finding caught the attention of Professor Peter Goadsby, trustee of The Migraine Trust, who said “The identification of a mutation in a gene for the potassium channel in a family with migraine with aura provides both a further important part of the puzzle in understanding the biology of migraine, and a novel direction to consider new therapies in this very disabling condition."

For More:

  • Study results published in Nature Medicine
  • Video commentary from Dr. Cader
  • Intravenous aspirin for severe headache?
  • Dynamics of Changes in Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control Expectancies in the Behavioral and Drug Treatment of Severe Migraine