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New Genetic Variants May Be Causing Migraines

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A team of scientists from around the world has discovered new genetic variants that are linked to migraine headaches. They say these findings could pave the way for new treatments.

The discovered gene variants are in or near other genes involved in regulation within the circulatory system, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. This supports the long-held theory that migraines are somehow caused by abnormal blood vessel functions in the brain, according to the scientists.

One of the researchers, John-Anker Zwart of Oslo University Hospital in Norway, said,

These genetic findings are the first concrete step towards developing personalized, evidence-based treatments for this very complex disease. We doctors have known for a long time that migraine patients differ from each other and the drugs that work for some patients are completely inefficient for others.

The researchers released a press statement from the University of Helsinki in Finland, saying, “In the future, we hope that this information can be utilized in dividing the patients into different genetic susceptibility groups for clinical drug trials, thus increasing the chances of identifying the best possible treatment for each subgroup.”

There has been no clear cause for migraines as yet, although prior research has shown that genetics and environmental factors play a big part in their occurrence. They may be caused by changes in the brain stem and in interaction with major brain pathways.

Serotonin levels have been shown to drop during migraines, which have been theorized to cause the brain’s trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides, which then travel to the brain’s outer covering, resulting in migraine pain. Activity from other neurotransmitters might also factor in these severe headaches.

The scientists analyzed DNA samples taken from 375,000 Europeans, Australians and Americans. Close to 60,000 of the participants suffered from migraines. They then found nearly 30 new genetic variants as they studied the samples. The variants are in 38 genomic regions, and just 10 of them had been previously associated with an increased risk for migraine.

Dr. Aarno Palotie, leader of the International Headache Genetics Consortium, which coordinated the research, said the organization has been focused on discovering the genetic causes of migraines. “During the past few years we have been able to identify many risk variants,” he said. He noted that in this latest, expansive study, plenty of genetic risk factors were identified right away and that its large-scale scope provided better insights into the variants for the disorder.

Migraines affect around one in seven people globally. It causes severe throbbing pains or a pulsing sensation, typically on one side of the head. It is often combined with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to sound and light. Migraines are frequently undiagnosed and untreated, as most people just wait for it to pass. A migraine can last from hours to days, and can often be so severe that the pain hinders normal physical activity.

Several warning symptoms called aura may happen before or during a migraine, including flashes of light, blind spots or tingling on one side of the face, arm or leg. Medications are generally prescribed for migraines to ease the pain. Lifestyle changes might also help those who suffer from chronic migraines.

The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.


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