The study, undertaken by an international team of researchers from Griffith University, University de Montreal in Canada, Oxford University in the UK, and other research organisations, was published in the prestigious medical journal Nature Medicine this week.
The study found that a mutation within the KCNK18 gene affects a protein, called TRESK, which regulates pain pathways and the threshold of sensitivity of pain centres in the brain.
Griffith Health Institute Director Professor Lyn Griffiths said while previous studies found genes associated with migraine risk, this faulty gene directly caused migraine in a large multi-generational family.
“For the first time, we have found a clear inheritance pattern for this gene defect and know it is the cause behind this debilitating condition,” Professor Griffiths said.
The team compared the DNA of people who suffer from migraines with that of people who do not. They found that one large family of sufferers of migraine with aura carried the mutation.
“We traced a family over four generations and found that all people in the family with the gene mutation suffered from migraines and it was a dominant gene, so that a single copy of the mutation led to the disorder.”
TRESK, plays an important role in nerve cell communication, and its pathways may provide important clues for migraine treatment.
“This finding will give us a real opportunity to find a new way to fight migraine and improve the quality of life for those suffering.”
“Further research needs to investigate how commonly people with migraine are affected by the mutation.”
Migraine is a common recurrent headache disorder, with an annual prevalence estimated at 18.2 per cent in females and 6.5 per cent in males.
The World Health Organization rates it as a leading cause of disability worldwide and it is also thought to be the most costly neurological disorder in Europe.
One third of attacks, which can last from four to 72 hours, have accompanying neurological disturbances known as aura. These are commonly visual, such as flashing hallucinations and black spots.