Migraines and Genetics: Latest Research Findings

Important research in recent years has uncovered clues to the genetic factors that play a role in migraine disease. We have known for many years that migraine disease tends to run in families, but have not known what might explain this. By studying a large family of migraine sufferers and comparing them with nonmigraineurs researchers have identified a genetic mutation shared by each member of that family who experiences migraines.

In this study researchers discovered a genetic flaw directly responsible for the migraine process in some people. The genetic mutation impacts a neurotransmitter* in the brain known as TRESK. This mutation forms an incomplete version of the TRESK neurotransmitter. This incomplete version of TRESK makes the brain more susceptible to the outside factors that can trigger migraine attacks (such as food triggers, weather triggers, fluorescent lighting, etc.). TRESK is present in nerve cells that are already known to play a role in migraine development.

Throughout recent years there has been a growing understanding that migraines involve excitability of the brain. With the knowledge of which gene influences this excitability researchers hope it will be possible to develop targeted medications that are better able to stop migraine attacks in their tracks. The goal now is to design a medication that would activate this underperforming neurotransmitter.

In addition to providing insight into a genetic explanation for migraine attacks, these research findings also provide concrete evidence in support of the theory that migraine disease is caused by nerve excitability rather than a vascular headache related to enlargement of blood vessels.

However, the study’s authors noted that not all migraine sufferers have this mutation in the TRESK neurotransmitter. Since TRESK controls the excitability of nerve cells they believe that developing medications that activate TRESK might work for most migraineurs regardless of the origins of their attacks.

* A neurotransmitter is a chemical that transmits an impulse from a nerve cell to another nerve, muscle, organ or other tissue.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
A dominant-negative mutation in the TRESK potassium channel is linked to familial migraine with aura

Comments

View Comments (6)
  • Shelley Shannon Brandon
    7 years ago

    Great info if migraines run in your family like they do mine.

  • Shelley Shannon Brandon
    7 years ago

    Suprising things I just found out. I won’t be a Guinea pig for over 6 years this time around.

  • Chave D Sladia
    8 years ago

    The genetic disorder CADASIL also has migraines on its symptoms list.

  • angelmlecki
    8 years ago

    As a PS … Last summer I did a 6 month investigational medicine study on a new pill that is the first of its kind in regards to the genetic migraine gene. Dr. Jan Brandes of Nashville Neuroscience Group is one of the top 5 migraine doctors in the world. She has worked with every abortive medicine on the market today. She’s a miracle worker!

    This pill is in Phase III testing. My study was part of the genetic & hormone side of testing. It’s simply amazing. First time in over 20 years that I didn’t have a headache during my menstrual cycle or fluctuation of hormones. The pill works with the TRESK, as well as Vascular which causes my inflammation.
    Oh how I miss that pill & can’t wait for the FDA to approve it.

    I think this medicine is going to be the answer for a lot of us with the Migraine gene! I can go back many generations of my Mom and they all suffered just like us.

    Angel

  • Diana-Lee author
    8 years ago

    I hope it will eventually become possible to test for TRESK, but I haven’t read anything indicating it would be available soon.

    This research is very exciting, though. I hope it will lead to some great new options for us.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Diana, this is really interesting. As you may know, I’ve had some genetic testing. My father was adopted, so my family tree is pretty small and many of my health issues are genetic in origin. Some we can trace back on my maternal side, others – not. Migraine is one of those things that isn’t present on my maternal side.

    Do you know if there are any plans at this point to offer genetic testing for TRESK?

    We do know that my Migraine issues are much worse when inflammation is a problem, and lowering inflammation will often make my intractable Migraines treatable. As an autoimmune patient, my inflammation levels are often high. With genetic testing I did find that I have a complement regulation disorder – instead of two normal genes, I have two abnormal genes that usually serve to control inflammation in my body.

    Could this be part of my Migraine story? I’m told we just don’t have enough information about it yet. Learning about TRESK gives me hope that perhaps soon we will know even more about the genetics of Migraine, which are probably going to be multi-faceted.

    Perhaps learning the answers to my own questions isn’t such a far-fetched idea afterall.

    Ellen

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