A new clue to the migraine puzzle
Four genes associated with the most common form of migraine have been revealed thanks to international scientific collaboration. Jean Schoenen and his team from the Headache Research Unit (University of Liège) helped to discover these first-ever genetic factors specifically linked to migraine without aura.
During an attack, at least two of the following characteristics are found: unilaterality, pulsatility, moderate to severe intensity or exacerbation of the pain by routine physical activity. In addition, the migraine attack is also accompanied by at least one of nausea and/or vomiting, photophobia and phonophobia – a heightened sensitivity to light and. As for migraines ‘with aura’, that affect one out of every five migraine sufferers, the headache is preceded by neurological disturbances, most often visual.
Conquering the genetics of migraine
The criteria used to define whether or not a patient is suffering from migraine are thus clearly established. Unfortunately, this is not the case with regard to treatment and the genetic basis of this disease which affects 16 to 18 % of the population. Jean Schoenen, director of the Headache Research Unit in the Department of Neurology & GIGA-Neurosciences at ULg, and his team are gradually retracing the genetic traces of migraines thanks to collaboration with a European consortium. Indeed, in order to to optimise migraine treatment, it is essential to discover which genetic pecularities predispose to the disease and what types of dysfunctions these genes cause in the brain.
In 2009, Jean Schoenen and his team, in collaboration with Italian researchers, published a study in the journal Neurology (1) showing that the mitochondrial genome can be involved in the appearance, and especially the treatment, of migraines. Based on the observation that vitamin B2 has a preventive effect on migraine attacks in some patients, the scientists sought to understand why this group of patients responded to the treatment and not the other one. They found the answer in mitochondrial DNA.
(1) C. Di Lorenzo, MD, F. Pierelli, MD, G. Coppola, MD, G. S. Grieco, PhD, C. Rengo, PhD, M. Ciccolella, BSc, D. Magis, MD, M. Bolla, MD, C. Casali, MD, F. M. Santorelli, PhD and J. Schoenen, MD., Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups influence the therapeutic response to riboflavin in migraineurs. Neurology, 2009;72:1588-1594