UCLA geneticists have discovered the first evidence that migraine with aura is a hereditary condition. Reported in the March 1 edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the findings will enable researchers to isolate the gene that predisposes people to the painful disorder.
“For the first time, we have proof of an isolated genetic link to migraine,” said Dr. Aarno Palotie, principal investigator and UCLA professor of pathology and human genetics. “This finding moves us one step closer to isolating the gene that predisposes people to migraine headaches with auras.”
Palotie’s team analyzed genetic markers in blood samples from 50 Finnish families with three or more multigenerational members who suffer from the disorder.
In 30 percent of the 430 people studied, Palotie and his colleagues discovered three common markers consistently linked to the q23 region of chromosome 4. No other chromosomal site demonstrated such a strong linkage.
“Now that we have narrowed the hunting ground, these findings provide us with a focused direction for identification of the gene itself,” Palotie said. “They also pave the way for clinical trials of more effective prophylactic drugs.”
Migraines affect roughly 12 percent of the population. The headaches are characterized by intense pulsating pain on one side of the head, often with pain behind one eye, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. Some migraines are preceded by an aura — neurological symptoms revealed by visual disturbances up to one hour before the headache begins.