Back to Back Issues Page
HeadWay, Issue #096 -- New Genetic Clues into Migraine
June 21, 2012

*Please note: URLs may wrap onto the next line. To visit the website, cut and paste the entire URL into your address bar on your browser*

In this month's issue:

New Genetic Clues into Migraine

Genetic Related Research Happening NOW

Say what?!  Genetic loci

New Genetic Clues into Migraine

Many people may be surprised to know that migraine has anything to do with genetics.  After all, everyone gets headaches... maybe some people are just more stressed... what's the big deal?

I hope most of our readers know that migraine is not just a bad headache, but a disease.  People with chronic migraine are biologically different.

So why is that?  Well, genetics are certainly a part of the picture.  And recent studies have shed more light on migraine as a genetically based disease.

The Hunt Begins

In the last 7 years, the study of migraine genetics has taken giant leaps forward.

Familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) brought us the first clue.  Because close relatives share the disease, we knew that a genetic link was likely.  Researchers began to find genetic links in FHM, and began to break down different types of FHM based on different mutations.  See Familial Hemiplegic Migraine - Types

If this type of migraine has a genetic basis, why not other types?  Researchers began to discover genetic clues - for example, researchers find genetic mutation that could cause some of the biological problems we find in migraine attacks.  Maybe a genetic issue that's changing the body's ability to communicate with itself, with sodium or serotonin.

But it was still hard to find genetic answers for migraine.  Part of the reason is that migraine is such a wide variety of things - and it's very complex.  Also, it's hard to study well in the lab.  Do you just make someone stay until they actually have a migraine attack?

Then came The 2010 Migraine Genetics Study, a study of over 50,000 people.  Finally, a genetic link to more common types of migraine was found.  It was found that patients with a DNA variant on Chromosome 8 between two genes (PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1) have a significantly greater risk of developing migraine.

But that wasn't the end.

Migraine probably comes from a variety of factors - not all genetic, of course.  But even the genetics are complex.  Migraine is probably coming from a complex set of variants and genetic combinations.

In 2011, research found single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in three different genes, which each alter the risk of migraine, for example.

New techniques were developed to better study migraine genetics.  For example, researchers started to focus on the various symptoms of migraine when they looked for genetic links.  That included investigating different types of pain.

Reporting on an international study in 2008, Professor Aarno Palotie (University of Helsinki, Finland, and the Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK) said,"All of these findings depended on the newly discovered aspect of migraine genetics: different types of pain - such as pain that pulsates or pain that is unilateral - are more closely linked to specific genetic loci than general pain".

June 2012

This month a new report focused on the most common type of migraine - migraine without aura.  Four new gene loci were discovered that predisposed people to this type of migraine.  Over 11,000 people were involved in the study.  Not only were four new genes discovered, two other genes were also confirmed to be a part of the equation - genes that had been found in earlier research.  More on this study here.

Who cares?

Does this research really matter?  Absolutely.  First of all, it continues to help us fill in the blanks to the question of what migraine is, where it comes from, and how it acts in the body.

That means that we can find treatments that work, and find them faster.  It also means that we can narrow down what treatment will work best for you, based on your symptoms and even your genetic profile.

But it's not all dreams of the future.  Genetic research has already started to yield usefull information about migraine.

For example, an early discovered genetic link was found to be related to levels of glutamate (a neurotransmitter) in the body.  Already migraineurs are being treated by memantine (Namenda, Axura, etc), which blocks the effects of excessive glutamate in the body.  Other drugs are being researched that can impact glutamate levels.

Genetics are giving us clues about comorbid conditions.  Evidence is starting to emerge that depression and migraine are genetically linked - which means you're not just "depressed because of the pain".  That's could change how your doctor treats you.

Some genetic flaws may be treatable just through lifestyle changes.  A genetic link between stroke and migraine may be treatable by including more folate in your diet (think green leafy veggis) (more here).

Some patients may not respond well to the common migraine medication known as triptans - because of a genetic factor.

In short - let's keep it going!

Genetic research for migraine is really only just beginning.  We have a lot to learn.  But we've also come a long way in only a few years.

See some recent articles about migraine and genetic research here.

See the next section to find out how you can help further this kind of research.

Genetic Related Research Happening NOW

The Migraine Research Foundation is currently funding a variety of research related to migraine genetics.  Here are a few examples:

Dr. F. Michael Cutrer (Rochester, USA):  Dr. Cutrer from the Mayo Clinic is studying a large family with migraine to find new genes related to migraine.

Dr. Emily Bates (Provo, USA):  A certain gene is related to migraine with aura - but why?  Dr. Bates wants to find out how it's connected to estrogen receptors and how signals are sent from within cells.

Dr. Teresa Esposito (Naples, Italy):  Remember what we said about glutamate?  It's one of the hot topics in migraine treatment today.  Dr. Esposito wants to know exactly how glutamate receptor genes impact migraine and its symptoms.  How can we best direct treatment at these receptors?

Drs Markus Schürks and Tobias Kurth (Boston, USA):  How do genetic factors impact both migraine and cardiovascular disease?  What genetic factors raise your risk of either one?  This research focuses on women with migraine.

That's only some of the research related to the genetics of migraine.

Why not take this opportunity to give back a little bit?  A donation to the Migraine Research Foundation will help fund this research.  Just a few dollars (skip a coffee or a movie) or a large donation - whichever you feel you can do - can make a big difference when we all take part.

I've donated - have you?

Migraine Research Foundation

Say what?!  Genetic loci

So you discovered genetic loci - what does that actually mean?!  Loci is of course the plural of locus (we all knew that).  A locus is the specific location of the region of the DNA.  The term genetic loci simply means that we know the specifics about that gene - it's address.  Sometimes shorthand terms are used for a chromosomal or genomic location (locus), such as terms that relate a genetic variant with a disease.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
Back to Back Issues Page