1-Sep-10 9:00 AM  CST

Scientist Discover First Genetic Link to Common Migraine

An international group of scientists steered by the International Headache Genetics Consortium at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. has discovered the first ever genetic risk factor for the common migraine, a discovery which they hope will lead to preventative treatments for migraine attacks.

According to their research, common migraine attacks may be caused by an unusually high level of glutamate in the nerve synapses of the brain. People with a variant between two genes called PCGP and MTDH/AEG-1, the latter of which regulates the proteins responsible for clearing glutamate in the brain, may be predisposed to common migraine attacks. Although genetic mutations have been attributed to rarer, more extreme forms of migraine attacks, this is the first time scientists have found a genetic link to the common migraine.

“This is the first time we have been able to peer into the genomes of many thousands of people and find genetic clues to understand the common migraine,” said Dr. Aarno Palotie, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the International Headache Genetics Consortium at Wellcome Trust Sanger. “This discovery opens new doors to understand common human diseases.”

Scientists collaborated with 40 different centers around the world to examine more than 50,000 patients. They compared the genomes of 3,000 patients who suffer from migraines with more than 10,000 patients who do not. When the genetic variant was discovered, they conducted a second study comparing the 3,000 migraine patients with over 40,000 more healthy patients.  The 3,000 patients diagnosed with migraines were recruited from headache specialist clinics from Finland, The Netherlands and Germany. Healthy patients were recruited from pre-existing studies.  

Migraines are the 19th most common cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Every day, 3,000 out of every one million people experience a migraine attack. People with migraines experience decreased productivity at work, have a reduced social life and deal with financial costs from chronic therapies and treatments. Dr. Gisela Terwindt, M.D., Ph.D., of the Leiden University Medical Center, co-senior author of the study, hopes this study will serve as a stepping stone on the quest for preventative treatments for migraine sufferers. The next step in research, she said, would be to broaden the study pool to include migraine sufferers from general populations, not just headache clinics.

“Although the (3,000 migraine) patients in the study were all diagnosed with common migraine, they were largely recruited from specialist headache clinics,” Terwindt said. “In the future, we should look at associations across general populations, including people who are less severely affected.”

The research is available in the August 2010 issue of Nature Genetics.

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