New Gene Sequencing Offers Clues
More recently, a new gene-sequencing technology called Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) has helped researchers begin to identify specific genes that may affect the development of migraines. This technique compares DNA from individuals with migraine to similar individuals without migraine. When a particular DNA sequence variation is found more often in the DNA of those with migraine, that region is thought to be associated with the condition.
One recent GWAS analysis looked at the DNA of more than 23,000 migraine sufferers and compared it with DNA from more than 95,000 similar individuals without migraine. This analysis found 12 specific areas of the DNA that appear to be associated with migraine, two of which were specifically associated only with migraine without aura. Why does this matter? Early research indicated that aura migraines were more commonly hereditary — but this study suggests that migraine without aura can also have a strong family history.6
How Inherited Factors Impact Migraine
No single genetic variant can explain why migraines are more common in certain families. They are more likely caused by an interaction between genetic differences and environmental triggers.7
For example, specific mutations identified in GWAS analyses may lead to accumulation of glutamate, a key neurotransmitter in the brain that communicates messages throughout the body. This finding supports current theories that extra neurotransmission (in other words, too many messages from the brain), may contribute to the start of a migraine attack.8
Familial Hemiplegic Migraine
The most studied type of migraine associated with mutations in specific genes is a rare subtype of aura migraine called familial hemiplegic migraine (or FHM).9 Those with FHM suffer severe migraine attacks, sometimes with an aura that includes numbness or weakness on one side of the body (hemiparesis). Mutations in a few genes have been specifically linked to families with FHM, each of which can cause disruption of normal release and uptake of neurotransmitters in the brain.10
What This Means For You
Researchers continue to explore the link between inherited genes and how these influence the processes in our brains. As ongoing research identifies these genes and then explores how these impact migraine triggers, new ways to treat migraines may be revealed.
The bottom line? Share anything you can about your family history for migraines when you talk to your physician – it could help him or her get a full picture of your medical history.