What is Known About the Genetic Cause(s) of Migraines and How is this Information Potentially Useful?
Scientists who study migraines have long felt that they have an underlying genetic cause or multiple genetic causes, but until recently, migraine genetic markers have remained elusive. In late August 2010, however, researchers at the International Headache Genetics Consortium reported their discovery of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), designated rs1835740. They also reported that their data, which was obtained from more than 5,000 people known to suffer from migraines and 50,000 people known to be migraine-free, supports it as a marker for susceptibility to migraines.
This SNP is located between two genes that are thought to play a role in glutamate production. This is particularly interesting because it has been known for some time that glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter, is associated with migraines. Specifically, it is thought that glutamate may play a key role in generating certain electrical waves which are problematic in the brains of those who are prone to migraines. This SNP therefore may affect normal function of one or both of these genes.
Using the recent discovery of this SNP and knowledge of its close proximity to two glutamate genes as a springboard, scientists now may try to develop therapies that involve one or both of these genes. For example, these therapies may include administering the proteins that are encoded by these genes, or possibly even the genes themselves should gene therapy techniques improve, to migraine patients, or they may include administering one or more other medicines that regulate (either stimulate or reduce) the activity of these genes to migraine patients.
While it may be some time before it is known whether the recent discovery of this first migraine genetic marker will lead to an improved therapy for migraine sufferers, hopefully those who are inflicted with this condition will take comfort in knowing that much is being done to help their plight.