Scientists have discovered the first gene involved in typical migraines, which could lead to new and better treatments for the millions afflicted by pounding headaches.
Researchers found the gene after first studying the genetics of two families of migraine sufferers, allowing them to pinpoint a common genetic flaw.
To make sure that the gene is key to migraines, the team of US scientists studied mice carrying the same genetic fault.
Lead researcher Louis Ptácek, of University of California, San Francisco, said: “Obviously, we can’t measure a headache in a mouse but there are other things that go along with a migraine that we can measure.”
Experiments showed the mice, like people with migraines, were very sensitive to pain, touch, sound and light, according to the Daily Mail.
The mice with the genetic flaw were also more prone to a pattern of brain waves linked to the flashing lights or other visual problems that can precede a migraine.
Migraine drugs appeared to ease the mice’s symptoms, the journal Science Translational Medicine reported.
Professor Ptácek said that working out how the flaw in a gene called casein kinase I delta causes migraines could lead to improved treatments.
He said that existing drugs “only help some patients, some of the time”, adding: “This is the first gene in which mutations have been shown to cause a very typical form of migraine. It’s our initial glimpse into a black box that we don’t yet understand.
“As we come to a clearer understanding, we can start to think about better therapies. The need for better treatments is huge.”
Peter Goadsby, a professor of neurology and medical trustee of the Migraine Trust in the UK, hailed the work as an “exciting new development in understanding migraine”.
Professor Andrew Charles, a researcher from the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “There simply hasn’t been enough attention paid to migraine as a major cause of disability worldwide.
“Compared to other common medical problems relatively little research has been done on the cause of migraine and its potential treatments.
“We desperately need a better understanding of the condition and new treatments so that we are better able to help these many people whose lives are devastated by the disorder.”
Researchers hope that the gene, which is also involved in the control of sleep, will also shed light on links between sleeping too much and too little and the onset of migraines.
Migraines affect one in four women and one in 12 men, and feature in the World Health Organisation’s top 20 most disabling lifetime conditions.
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