New Genetic Risk Factors For Migraines Identified

New Genetic Risk Factors For Migraines Identified

A groundbreaking study was published in the journal Nature Genetics which analyzed data from Europe, Australia, and the United States of about 873,000 individuals including 102,084 who experienced migraines. The researchers uncovered 43 new genetic risk factors of migraines. They also found more genetic information on migraine subtypes than they were previously aware of. 

New Genetic Risk Factors For Migraines Identified

The researchers documented that the exact cause of the migraine is unknown, but mechanisms in the nerves and blood vessels are the causes of migraines as a neurovascular disorder.

New Genetic Risk Factors For Migraines Identified

Migraine is usually a condition that causes pulsating pain on one side of the head, although the headache often accompanies other symptoms, such as nausea, hypersensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting. Earlier doctors thought that migraines were linked to the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the head. But now they believe these intense headaches have an underlying genetic cause. 

Migraine is a very common brain disorder with over a billion patients worldwide and causes a lot of disability to people, said Matti J. Prininen, co-author of the study and associate professor at the University of Helsinki. Therefore it is crucial to learn about its biological background to develop treatments for migraine. 

However, whether the two main subtypes of migraine — with aura (MA) or without aura (MO) share similar genetic background, has been a controversial topic. Researchers from the International Headache Genetics Consortium assembled a large genetic dataset to conduct a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to gain insight into more specific risk genes, looking for genetic variants that are common in people with migraines or one of the two main migraine types. 

The results demonstrated that three genetic risk variants appear to be specific to MA, two that are specific to MO, and nine that are associated with both types. 

Future impact on migraine treatment.

As research shows that up to 60% of a person’s risk of getting a migraine is due to genes, then to know which genes are involved is very useful, said Amit Sachdeva, MD, medical director in the department of neurology and ophthalmology at Michigan State University. He further said that researchers have “long recognized” that migraines tend to run in families.

The latest findings can definitely influence future migraine treatment—the technology only needs to catch up first, said Medhat Mikhael, MD, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California. 

Mikhail predicts that there will eventually be a readily available genetic test for people with a family history of migraine, “as we now do with some types of cancer.” And, if patients test positive for genetic markers, they could potentially be placed on initial treatment. But we do not have testing now. Today genetics is not used to decide whether you have a migraine or how to treat it, Sachdev said. He claimed that it is most useful for future research.

Dr. Cady said the study “offers a new era of hope for a better understanding of migraine pathophysiology and the development of more targeted, personalized pharmacological treatments.” 

Pirinon observed that, among the new genetic discoveries his research uncovered, two are near genes that are already targeted by effective migraine drugs—CGRP-inhibitors or lasmiditan

He said that “this suggests that there could be other potential drug targets among the new genetic discoveries, and provide a clear rationale for future genetic studies with even larger sample sizes.”

Overall, Michael said more work needs to be done with migraine treatment. Further, he added that “it is an exciting time.”

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