The first genetic factor for the ‘common’ migraine

The analyse of the genome of 50,000 people has enabled an international team of researchers to discover a genetic particularity which is more common in migraine sufferers. It is the first categorical genetic link for migraines, with or without aura, the most common forms of this disease. The ULg has contributed to gathering 10% of the data required for this study.

migraine schoenenMigraine is a widespread complaint which affects over 10% of the population, and three times as many women as men (read the article Migraine: its multiple facets). Despite its great prevalence and the numerous scientific studies which have been and continue to be carried out in order to better understand its origins and to treat it better, migraine is still keeping its mysteries to itself, notably in terms of the genetic mechanisms involved in its triggering.

Many types and sub-types of migraine exist, amongst which we find familial hemiplegic migraine, a rare sub-type of this affliction. If researchers have succeeded in placing their finger on several mutations of the genes responsible for familial hemiplegic migraine, their efforts have been in vain up until now as far as more common forms of migraine are concerned.

But recently, an international team of scientists have brought to light the first genetic particularity for migraine susceptibility, with or without aura, the most common forms of this disease. The results of this study were published at the end of August in the journal Nature Genetics (1). ‘It is the first irrefutable genetic link concerning the most frequent forms of migraine,’ explains Professor Jean Schoenen, Director of the ULg’s  Headache Research Unit (Department of Neurology and GIGA-Neurosciences), and one of the authors of this study, who participated in it in the framework of the European ‘Eurohead’ project. ‘Links to at least 18 chromosomal sites have been suspected for migraine sufferers, but these associations have never been replicated until now, and remain suspect,’ continues Jean Schoenen.

Bringing together the work effected beyond borders

In order to be able to affirm the existence of a link between the presence of a genetic particularity in the human genome and a heightened susceptibility to migraine, an analysis of the DNA of a very large number of migraine patients is required. In addition it is necessary that the results obtained can be replicated. And it is precisely that that the researchers from 40 research centres in Europe have managed to do. In pooling their efforts they have in effect been able to study the genetic data of over 50,000 individuals and thus compare a very large number of the genomes of the people suffering from migraines and those of ‘healthy’ people.


(1) Anttila, V., et al. (2010) Genome-wide association study of migraine implicates a common susceptibility variant on 8q22.1. Nature Genetics Published online: 29 August 2010.

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