Migraine triggers have genetic roots

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON (UK) — Five genetic regions have for the first time been linked to the onset of migraines, a finding that could lead to the cause and biological triggers that underlie attacks.

Researchers identified 12 genetic regions associated with migraine susceptibility, eight of which were found in or near genes known to play a role in controlling brain circuits. Two were associated with genes that are responsible for maintaining healthy brain tissue. The regulation of these pathways may be important to the genetic susceptibility of migraines.

Migraine is a debilitating disorder that affects approximately 14 percent of adults and is estimated to be the most costly neurological disorder. It is an extremely difficult disorder to study because no biomarkers between or during attacks have been identified to date.


“This is the largest ever genetic study into migraines and highlights for the first time the possible genetic causes of what can be a devastating condition for many,” says Lydia Quaye from the department of twin research at King’s College London.

“By looking at almost 120,000 samples, we have been able to find genes associated with migraine and have pinpointed some mechanisms through which migraine occurs.  This study gives us a greater understanding of the condition and will hopefully pave the way for better diagnosis and potential treatments in the future.”

For the study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, the team uncovered the underlying susceptibilities by comparing the results from 29 different genomic studies, including over 118,000 samples from both migraine sufferers and control samples.

They found that some of the regions of susceptibility lay close to a network of genes that are sensitive to oxidative stress, a biochemical process that results in the dysfunction of cells.

Many of the genes at genetic regions associated with migraine are interconnected and could potentially be disrupting the internal regulation of tissue and cells in the brain, resulting in some of the symptoms of migraine.

“This study has greatly advanced our biological insight about the cause of migraine,” says Aarno Palotie from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “Migraine and epilepsy are particularly difficult neural conditions to study; between episodes the patient is basically healthy so it’s extremely difficult to uncover biochemical clues.

“We have proven that this is the most effective approach to study this type of neurological disorder and understand the biology that lies at the heart of it.”

Source: King’s College London