Migraine Gene: Could New Findings Lead To Better Treatments For Migraines?

By Philip Ross on May 2, 2013 1:39 PM EDT

migraine gene
Migraines are a crippling condition whose severe headaches can leave the sufferer doubled over in pain. A group of scientists in California has uncovered a “migraine gene” that may provide some answers about the debilitating ailment. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A migraine gene was discovered by a group of scientists in California who studied two families of migraine sufferers and found they carry the same genetic flaw. According to NPR, the finding, published in Science Translational Medicine, should make it easier to find new drug treatments for migraines, which the World Health Organization says is one of the top 10 most disabling lifetime conditions.

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Origin Of Migraine Gene

Researches in Los Angeles found that the two families of migraine subjects all had advanced sleep phase syndrome, or the condition of going to bed around sundown and waking up before sunrise.

Andrew Charles, a neurologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, told NPR that his team was able to trace the families' sleep disorder to an irregularity in a gene that helps control circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle of physiological processes that all living things experience.

The team then studied mice with the same gene defect and found that they, like the family members who had migraines, were also ultra-sensitive to light, pain, sound and touch, Daily Mail reports. Researchers also witnessed that giving the mice migraine drugs seemed to help assuage their migraine symptoms.

"There simply hasn't been enough attention paid to migraine as a major cause of disability worldwide," Charles told Daily Mail. "Compared to other common medical problems relatively little research has been done on the cause of migraine and its potential treatments."

For one member of the research team, Emily Bates, the study is a personal journey. Bates has been a migraine sufferer since childhood, and went into science in order to find answers about her condition.

"Loud sounds and light kind of hurt my eyes and my ears and my head," she told NPR. Bates said the problem caused her to miss a lot of school.

Bates and the rest of the team of researchers believe their research will help doctors find clues to treating migraines.

What's A Migraine All About?

Migraine headaches are often described as an intense throbbing pain in one area of the head that can last up to 72 hours if untreated. Additional symptoms include nausea and/or vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, or NINDS, migraines are three times more common in women than in men, and more than 10 percent of people worldwide get migraines.

There is currently no definitive cure for migraines because scientists do not yet fully understand their pathophysiology. From NINDS:

There are two ways to approach the treatment of migraine headache with drugs: prevent the attacks, or relieve the symptoms during the attacks. Prevention involves the use of medications and behavioral changes. Drugs originally developed for epilepsy, depression, or high blood pressure to prevent future attacks have been shown to be extremely effective in treating migraine. Botulinum toxin A has been shown to be effective in prevention of chronic migraine.

Migraines can be triggered by anxiety, stress, lack of food or sleep and, in women, hormonal changes, according to Medline Plus.

Read more from iScience Times:

Mother's Migraine may Increase Baby's Risk of Colic

Morning After Pill For 15-Year-Old Girls; Why Did FDA Lower Age For Plan B Pills?

Xanax 'Better Mom': Can Drug Lead To Better Parenting?

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