I think it is safe to say that many, if not all, of you have experienced a severe headache or migraine at some point throughout your life. If not consider yourself lucky as you may be among the one percent of the population who escape them all together (Evans 2012). Migraines are currently ranked in the top 20 diseases in terms of ‘years lived with disability’ (World Health Organisation 2004). Now migraines are more than a severe headache, they are actually a neurological disease. Additionally recent studies have found that they are a genetic disease (M.A.G.N.U.M 2012).
Figure One: Migraine Victim (Kennedy, S 2010)
A study in 2010 lead by the International Headache Genetics Consortium at Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found an allele that could be responsible for migraines. It is the allele known as rs1835740 (France-Presse 2010). Whilst saying this really doesn’t mean anything to you, it is actually very important in the way the brain functions. It is when this allele is not performing its best that it allows glutamate to build up around brain cells causing them to expand resulting in a migraine. Glutamate is basically a signal messenger for the nervous system. This particular allele mentioned before is thought to keep amounts of glutamate under control. (Danbolt 2001).
Figure Two: Glutamate build up causing migraine (Dubè 2012)
Recently studies conducted by Markus Schuerks of Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found that some of the genes that are responsible for migraines are more frequent in women. It is believed that migraines are three to four times more common in women than men with inheritance playing a major role in this point. This international study of a variety of different women analysed the genomes of 23,230 women with 5,122 of them suffering from regular migraines. It found three genes that were more common in the victims than the non sufferers. The three genes are PRD16, TRPM8 and LRP1. This study now concluded that the first two are recognised to be specifically related to migraines over any other type of headache. Furthermore, it is the TRPM8 gene that is the link between migraines and women. (France- Presse 2011)
The research states that by even inheriting one of these three genes it could increase your risk of frequent migraine exposure by 15% (France – Presse 2011). This study is not enough solid evidence to start using these genes as a diagnostic method but it does give a better insight to migraine biology. The study also helps to differentiate between men and women more than just hormone levels and lifestyle factors (France – Presse 2010). This could just be the beginning of further study that one day might find a better treatment or cure for this disease that impacts a large number of the population.
Danbolt, N 2001 Glutamate as a neurotransmitter, 2001 viewed 17 March 2012
Dubè, T 2012 Genetic Trouble (figure two), viewed 18 March 2012
Evans, R 2012 Migraine Statistics, 2012 viewed 18 March 2012
France – Presse, A 2011 Gene linked to migraines is exclusive to women, media released, 13 June, viewed 16 March 2012,
France – Presse, A 2010 First gene link to common migraine found, media released, 30 August 2010, viewed 16 March 2012,
Kennedy, S 2010 Did You Know Fall Weather Can Trigger Migraines? (figure one) viewed 18 March 2012
World Health Organisation 2004, Headache Disorders, March 2004 viewed 17 March 2012