This discovery is a major step forward in the understanding of the causes and biological triggers of migraine attacks.
By comparing the results from over 118,000 people in 29 population studies, including the Children of the 90s study (ALSPAC) at the University of Bristol, the international team identified a total of 12 genetic regions associated with migraine.
Five are new and seven had been previously identified. Eight of these regions are in or near genes known to play a role in controlling brain circuitry and two of the regions are connected with genes that are responsible for maintaining healthy brain tissue.
The team believes that many of the genes at genetic regions associated with migraine are interconnected and could potentially be disrupting the internal regulation of tissue and cells in the brain, resulting in some of the symptoms of migraine.
Migraine affects one in four women and one in 12 men in the UK. According to the World Health Organisation some 25 million working – or school-days are lost in the UK every year because of migraine. Because headache disorders are most common in the economically productive years (late teens to 50s), estimates of the financial cost of migraines to society are massive. About 9 in 10 affected people have their first migraine before the age of 40; however, it is possible for migraines to begin later in life.
“This study has greatly advanced our biological insight about the cause of migraine”, says Dr Aarno Palotie, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which led the research.
“Migraine and epilepsy are particularly difficult neural conditions to study; between episodes the patient is basically healthy so it’s extremely difficult to uncover biochemical clues.
“We have proven that this is the most effective approach to study this type of neurological disorder and understand the biology that lies at the heart of it.’
Dr David Evans from Children of the 90s in the University’s School of Social and Community Medicine added: “This ground-breaking study has revealed several biological pathways involved in migraine that we didn’t know about previously and should give hope to migraine sufferers that researchers are well on the way to understanding the underlying causes of the condition.”
The paper: Verneri Anttila, Bendik S. Winsvold, Padhraig Gormley et al (2013), ‘Genome-wide meta-analysis of 23,285 individuals with migraine’ will be published online in Nature Genetics on 23 June 2013, Doi: 10.1038/ng.2676.