Genetic link to migraines discovered by researchers

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Monday, September 27, 2010

New research published in the journal Nature Medicine has shown a link between a faulty gene and migraines. Scientists hope that this discovery will lead to improved pain management treatments for sufferers, with possible benefits for pain treatment generally.

The breakthrough involves a gene known as TRESK, thought to control the brain's reaction to pain: if it is defective, then many normal activities and actions will be painful. Migraine sufferers (thought in the United Kingdom to number about eight per cent of men and eighteen per cent of women) often complain that light, noise and touch cause pain. TRESK can potentially be affected by drugs that would change the point at which it reports pain, which would alleviate the suffering of those with migraines. Now researchers will need to find such a drug.

The study involved scientists from the Medical Research Council Functional Genomics Unit at the University of Oxford and from Canada. They looked at the DNA of 110 people with migraine and members of their family, and found that TRESK was a major component in migraines. One of the Oxford researchers, consultant neurologist Zameel Cader, described it as a "once in a generation find" and said that it could "potentially lead to a treatment for pain in general." Before this study, no genes had been directly linked to migraines, although parts of the DNA that raised the general risk had been found.

Migraines are described by the World Health Organisation as a major worldwide cause of disability. In Britain, it is estimated that migraines affect 20 per cent of the population, with about 190,000 migraines occurring daily and over 25 million lost days from work every year. Lee Tomkin, director of a sufferers' charity, Migraine Action, described the news as "fantastic" and "genuinely a really great step forward." Professor Peter Goadsby from the Migraine Trust termed it "a novel direction to consider new therapies in this very disabling condition."


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