Scientists have discovered genes that may be behind migraines, “opening the door to a cure”, reported the Daily Mirror. The newspaper said that these genes normally control the levels of a brain chemical called glutamate, but a variant form of the gene may lead to a build-up of glutamate within the nerve cells. According to the paper, halting this build-up could help stop migraines.
The study behind this story scanned the DNA of several thousand people with and without a history of migraine. It compared their genetics and identified a particular gene variant that was more common in migraine sufferers. The study adds to our understanding of the complex processes that lead to migraines and highlights that there may be genetic causes.
This is important research, but finding genes that are linked to a condition is very different from developing a safe treatment based on this knowledge. Overall, it is premature for newspapers to suggest that this research may soon produce a cure for migraines. Migraine is a complex condition in which the interaction between genes and the environment is likely to be important, meaning there may not be a single cause or cure.
Migraine is an episodic headache disorder that is more common in women. The cause is thought to be related to changes in levels of particular chemicals in the brain and many potential triggers have been identified. These include dietary factors, physical triggers such as poor posture and tiredness, emotional triggers including stress, anxiety and depression, and environmental triggers. Some people also experience migraines after taking certain medications.
This was a genome-wide association (GWA) study which scanned people’s DNA to look for genetic factors that may be involved in migraines. GWA studies are commonly used to investigate whether particular genetic variants (such as mutations in DNA) are associated with certain conditions. The general approach is to assess the DNA sequences of a group of individuals with a condition and compare them to the DNA sequences in a group of unaffected individuals. In this study, researchers set out to identify genetic variants associated with the most common forms of migraine.
The findings of this research increase our understanding of the biochemistry of neurological disorders, and this important study will pave the way for future research. These next research steps should also examine how genetics interact with the environment, as environmental triggers also play a part in the development of migraine.
The developing and testing of drugs can be a long and complicated process. If future studies result in improvements in the treatment of migraine, they are likely to be some way off.