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.

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