Five newly identified genetic regions linked to the onset of migraine could boost scientists' understanding of what drives the painful headaches, researchers say.
"This study has greatly advanced our biological insight about the cause of migraine," Dr. Aarno Palotie, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, said in an institute news release. Migraine is difficult to study, he added, because "between episodes the patient is basically healthy, so it's extremely difficult to uncover biochemical clues."
In their research, Palotie's team pinpointed five genetic regions tied to migraine. They did so after analyzing the results of 29 different genetic studies involving more than 100,000 samples from people with and without migraines.
Some of the five regions are close to a network of genes that are sensitive to oxidative stress, a biochemical process that leads to improper functioning of cells. The researchers believe that many of the genes in regions associated with migraine are interconnected and may be disrupting the internal regulation of tissue and cells in the brain, resulting in some of the symptoms of migraine.
The researchers also identified another 134 genetic regions that are possibly associated with migraine susceptibility.
Migraine affects about 14 percent of adults, and according to the researchers this was the largest study of migraine genetics to date.
"We would not have made discoveries by studying smaller groups of individuals," study co-author Dr. Gisela Terwindt, of Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said in the news release. Having such a large study population "means we can tease out the genes that are important suspects and follow them up in the lab."