According to the team involved, these findings ‘are the first concrete step towards developing personalised, evidence-based treatments for this very complex disease'.
Migraine is the most common neurological condition in the world, affecting up to 15% of people. It usually involves a one-sided throbbing headache, which can last from four to 72 hours.
Classical migraine refers to migraine with aura, i.e. visual disturbances before the headache. However, the majority of sufferers experience common migraine, which is migraine without aura. This can be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, diarrhoea and confusion.
An international team of scientists carried out the largest genetic study on migraine to date. This was based on DNA samples from 375,000 Europeans, Americans and Australians. Almost 60,000 of these were migraine sufferers.
The study also used data from 22 relevant genome studies. A genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material found in a cell or organism. Among the genetic variants analysed, 38 independent genomic regions were found to be associated with migraine.
Just 10 of these regions had been implicated in migraine susceptibility before.
"Our consortium is devoted to uncovering the genetic causes of migraine and during the past few years we have been able to identify many risk variants. Yet, in this latest large-scale study, tens of new genetic risk factors were discovered. Because all of these variants modify the disease risk only slightly, the effect could only be seen when this large amount of samples became available," explained Prof Aarno Palotie, leader of the International Headache Genetics Consortium.
The researchers noted that despite the high number of people affected by migraine, the way in which the condition develops at a molecular level is still poorly understood. This makes the development of new treatments difficult.
The scientists found that most of the key genomic areas they located in this study overlapped with known genes. A number of these genes have previously been linked to the regulation of the vascular system. This provides support to the theory that blood vessels which function abnormally could have a key role to play in migraine attacks.
"These genetic findings are the first concrete step towards developing personalised, evidence-based treatments for this very complex disease. We doctors have known for a long time that migraine patients differ from each other and the drugs that work for some patients are completely inefficient for others,
"In the future, we hope that this information can be utilised in dividing the patients into different genetic susceptibility groups for clinical drug trials, thus increasing the chances of identifying the best possible treatment for each subgroup,' explained Prof John-Anker Zwart of Oslo University Hospital.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Nature Genetics.
Source: Irish Health