By Amir Khan
Migraines can be debilitating, and although the exact cause isn't known, a genetic mutation may play a role in determining who develops migraines, according to a study published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Researchers say the findings could help lead to better, more efficient treatment.
Working in humans, mice, and cells, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that a mutation in the gene known as kinase I delta (CKIdelta) could be to blame for migraines. Previous research has linked genes to a small increased risk, but this is the first to show a more concrete association, researchers said. They looked at two families who had widespread migraines and found that the majority of the migraine sufferers in the families either had the mutation or had a parent who did.
"This is the first gene in which mutations have been shown to cause a very typical form of migraine," study author Louis J. Ptáček, MD, professor of neurology at UCSF, said in a statement. "It's our initial glimpse into a black box that we don't yet understand."
In addition, they found increased signaling activity in brain cells called astrocytes, which could be a possible target for new treatments, according to the study.
"As we come to a clearer understanding, we can start thinking about better therapies," Dr. Ptáček said in a statement. "Certain molecules might be targets for new drugs."
Migraines affect 10 to 20 percent of all people worldwide, researchers said, and cause pounding headaches and hypersensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can interfere with daily life -- 91 percent of people with migraines miss work or can't function normally during migraine attacks, and 24 percent of migraine sufferers have gone to the emergency room because of severe migraine pain, according to 1999 data from the American Migraine Study II, the most recent data available.
Treatment for migraines varies, but can include antidepressants and anticonvulsants aimed at preventing headaches. However, medication does not always work, but Ptáček said these findings could lead to better treatment.
"There are good drugs now," Ptáček added, "but they only help some patients, some of the time. The need for better treatments is huge."
It's unlikely, however, that this one genetic mutation is responsible for migraines, said Adam Hamawy, MD, a migraine surgeon based in New York City, so further research needs to be done to find others. But it's possible that down the line, targeting astrocytes or other regions of the brain could become standard treatment for migraines.
"Just like with any genetic source, it gives another potential area for treatment options," he said. "If researchers can block a protein that is being produced or stimulate one that isn't, you may be able to stop the cascade of events that leads to a migraine."
But even if the findings do pan out, this likely won't be a cure-all for migraines.
"Migraines are very complex," Dr. Hamawy said. "Some people have migraines with no family history. In others, it runs in their family. There's no one thing that will help everyone."
In addition, any potential treatment is still a long way off, he added.
"This is an early finding," Hamawy said. "It could be years before any type of treatment is developed, if it ever is."
Hamawy stressed that he thinks the study is very promising, but said he doesn't want migraine patients thinking that a cure is near. But just because this study isn't a major breakthrough that will get rid of migraines once and for all doesn't make it any less interesting, he said.
"That's just how research works," Dr. Hamawy said. "You make small steps with the hopes of making big gains later."
"Genetic Mutation Linked To Migraine Could Pave Way For New Treatment" originally appeared on Everyday Health.