Migraines Linked to Faulty Genes: Study

Photo credit: Sasha Wolff

Scientists find genetic link to migraine

New research published in the journal Nature Medicine has shown a link between a faulty gene and migraines. Scientists hope that this discovery will lead to improved pain management treatments for sufferers, with possible benefits for pain treatment generally.

The breakthrough involves a gene known as TRESK, thought to control the brain’s reaction to pain: if it is defective, then many normal activities and actions will be painful. Migraine sufferers (thought in the United Kingdom to number about eight per cent of men and eighteen per cent of women) often complain that light, noise and touch cause pain. TRESK can potentially be affected by drugs that would change the point at which it reports pain, which would alleviate the suffering of those with migraines. Now researchers will need the map to their center to find such a drug.

The study involved scientists from the Medical Research Council Functional Genomics Unit at the University of Oxford and from Canada. They looked at the DNA of 110 people with migraine and members of their family, and found that TRESK was a major component in migraines. One of the Oxford researchers, consultant neurologist Zameel Cader, described it as a “once in a generation find” and said that it could “potentially lead to a treatment for pain in general.” Before this study, no genes had been directly linked to migraines, although parts of the DNA that raised the general risk had been found.

Migraines are described by the World Health Organisation as a major worldwide cause of disability. In Britain, it is estimated that migraines affect 20 per cent of the population, with about 190,000 migraines occurring daily and over 25 million lost days from work every year. Lee Tomkin, director of a sufferers’ charity, Migraine Action, described the news as “fantastic” and “genuinely a really great step forward.” Professor Peter Goadsby from the Migraine Trust termed it “a novel direction to consider new therapies in this very disabling condition.”

Backgrounder: What is a Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily perceptions, severe headaches, and nausea. Physiologically, the migraine headache is a neurological condition more common to women than to men. The word migraine was borrowed from Old French migraigne (originally as “megrim”, but respelled in 1777 on a contemporary French model). The French term derived from a vulgar pronunciation of the Late Latin word hemicrania, itself based on Greek hemikrania, from Greek roots for “half” and “skull”.

The typical migraine headache is unilateral (affecting one half of the head) and pulsating, lasting from 4 to 72 hours; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and phonophobia (increased sensitivity to sound). Approximately one-third of people who suffer from migraine headaches perceive an aura—unusual visual, olfactory, or other sensory experiences that are a sign that the migraine will soon occur.

Initial treatment is with analgesics for the headache, an antiemetic for the nausea, and the avoidance of triggering conditions. The cause of migraine headache is unknown; the most common theory is a disorder of the serotonergic control system.

There are migraine headache variants, some originate in the brainstem (featuring intercellular transport dysfunction of calcium and potassium ions) and some are genetically disposed. Studies of twins indicate a 60 to 65 percent genetic influence upon their propensity to develop migraine headache. Moreover, fluctuating hormone levels indicate a migraine relation: 75 percent of adult patients are women, although migraine affects approximately equal numbers of prepubescent boys and girls; propensity to migraine headache is known to disappear during pregnancy, although in some women migraines may become more frequent during pregnancy.

In 2010, scientists identified a genetic defect linked to migraine which could provide a target for new drug treatments.

– Compiled from wikinews and wikipedia reports.

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