The genetic basis of migraine may be well known, but we have a lot to learn about how it all works. But recent research is giving us fascinating new insights.
This particular study came out in May and was published in the neuroscience journal, Neuron. Researchers were trying to understand just how migraine is passed on.
Basically, two models were investigated. First, Mendelian inheritance. This means that there are a very few genetic traits that are passed on. Depending on what is dominant, they basically predict if the person will inherit migraine or not. We see this in some types of hemiplegic migraine. This probably sounds a lot like what you learned in school about genetic traits.
Second, polygenic inheritance, also known as multifactorial inheritance. In this model, there are hundreds – maybe thousands – of genetic traits that work together. In certain combinations, the person may have migraine.
There’s a third possibility – that it’s really a combination of both. There are some major genetic traits working together with these many less-important traits.
So, for those still reading this article, you’ll be interested to know what the result was. Actually, it surprised the researchers.
First, it was found that the research at this stage is pointing mostly to polygenic inheritance. That is, there is a wide variety of common genetic factors that all work together to result in migraine. This article explains it as being dealt a hand of cards. It’s not the individual cards that make a difference, it’s the hand as a whole.
This was even the case in familial hemiplegic migraine, which has traditionally been the most specifically genetic migraine type according to the research.
This actually follows a lot of genetic research that is going on today. There are several conditions that were once thought to be a lot more clear-cut – from a few genetic factors – that we are now realizing are coming from a much more complex genetic basis.
Another interesting discovery was that different types of migraine do indeed have different – and complex – genetic backgrounds.
Don’t get the idea that we now have specific genetic profiles for every type of migraine. We’re a long way from that. What we can say, it that certain profiles do tend to mean you inherit migraine – but there are other profiles, still unknown, that may also lead to the same type of migraine.
So where does this leave us? We are finding that treating migraine, from a genetic standpoint, will rarely be a case of “altering” a gene or two, or targeting a simple function of a gene. It’s far more complex. This could mean that some treatment in the future will also need to be more complex. But there is a lot of study to be done.
If you want to get geeky and keep studying the topic, check out this article – New light on genetic foundation of migraines, and the study itself here – Common Variant Burden Contributes to the Familial Aggregation of Migraine in 1,589 Families
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