Researchers have discovered some of the main biological causes of migraine by identifying several different genetic regions that are responsible for triggering the attacks.

Migraines affect approximately 14% of adults, it is classed as the seventh disabler in the Global Burden of Disease Survey 2010.

It has been very hard to study the disorder because no biomarkers have been identified during migraine attacks.

However, in this study, the team managed to identify 12 different genetic regions which play a role in the risk of migraine. Eight of the regions control brain circuitries and two maintain healthy brain tissue.

A person’s genetic susceptibility to getting migraines may have to do with the regulation of these pathways.

Dr Aarno Palotie, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said that the study has really helped provide more insight about the cause of migraine.

Palotie added:

“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.”

The researchers gathered data from 29 different genomic studies, which included more than 100,000 migraine and control samples and compared the results.

The susceptible regions were near an area of genes that are very sensitive to oxidative stress, which results in the cells not functioning properly.

The scientists believe that the genes located in these genetic regions are interconnected and could disrupt the regulation of cells inside the brain, leading to migraine symptoms.

Co-author of the study, from Leiden University Medical Centre, Dr Gisela Terwindt, said:

“We would not have made discoveries by studying smaller groups of individuals. This large scale method of studying over 100,000 samples of healthy and affected people means we can tease out the genes that are important suspects and follow them up in the lab.”

Another 134 genetic regions were also identified with possible associations to migraine susceptibility, however, the evidence was minimal.

Dr Kári Stefánsson, President of deCODE genetics, said that the molecular mechanisms of migraines “are poorly understood. The sequence variants uncovered through this meta-analysis could become a foothold for further studies to better understanding the pathophysiology of migraine.”

Dr Mark Daly, from the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, concluded:

“This approach is the most efficient way of revealing the underlying biology of these neural disorders. Effective studies that give us biological or biochemical results and insights are essential if we are to fully get to grips with this debilitating condition.

Pursuing these studies in even larger samples and with denser maps of biological markers will increase our power to determine the roots and triggers of this disabling disorder.”

A previous report on a genome-wide association study was published in Nature Genetics, the research identified three gene variations that are linked to an increased risk for migraine headaches in the general population.

The research team identified “single-nucleotide polymorphisms” or “SNPs” in the genes PRDM16, TRPM8 and LRP1, and showed that each alters the risk for migraines by 10 to 15 percent.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist