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New migraine genes discovery could fuel future research

A migraine can sure make you miserable.

More than 10 percent of people throughout the world have reported having a migraine, according to the World Health Organization. This could mean a lifetime of recurrent attacks that can cause debilitating symptoms like intense throbbing, extreme sensitivity to light and sound and pain and nausea that can last for days on ends.

Sufferers are often told to avoid potential migraine triggers like stress, bright flickering lights, exercise or certain foods, but recent research has raised questions about the role of such triggers.

Now, researchers say they've discovered for the first time five regions on certain genes that may be behind a migraine's onset. They hope the discovery can one day help people with migraines and other tough-to-treat neurological disorders.

"This study has greatly advanced our biological insight about the cause of migraine," study author Dr. Aarno Palotie, a human genetics researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K., said in a press release. "Migraine and epilepsy are particularly difficult neural conditions to study; between episodes the patient is basically healthy so it's extremely difficult to uncover biochemical clues."

Migraines are one of the lading disabling disorders in the world, according to the researchers, and it has been difficult to study because a chemical signal -- or biomarker -- has yet to be found during or between attacks. A discovery of a biomarker could provide clues to what causes migraines, and also could lead researchers to design treatments.

Researchers looked at almost 30 studies of genomes (or a person's genetic makeup), which included more than 100,000 genetic samples taken from both migraine sufferers and healthy individuals. Their analysis revealed 12 genetic regions associated with a person's susceptibility to migraines, including five newly identified regions. Eight genetic regions were found in or near genes that have a role in controlling brain circuitries and pathways, while two of the regions were linked to genes responsible for keeping brain tissue healthy.

Some of the regions were sensitive to so-called "oxidative stress," a process in which cells get damaged.

"This large scale method of studying over 100,000 samples of healthy and affected people means we can tease out the genes that are important suspects and follow them up in the lab," study co-author Dr. Gisela Terwindt, a neurologist at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement.

The researchers also found another 134 genetic regions that could be associated with migraines, but said the evidence of their involvement was statistically weaker. They point out previous studies suggest the role of these less-involved regions should not be discounted entirely, and that the statistically "weaker" culprits may play an equal role in the underlying biology of migraines.

The study was published June 23 in Nature Genetics.

"Effective studies that give us biological or biochemical results and insights are essential if we are to fully get to grips with this debilitating condition," study co-author Dr. Mark Daly, chief of the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a statement.

Dr. Padhraig Gormley, a researcher at Wellcome Trust, told the BBC the new discoveries could be "very important to informing the direction of research" but that a cure for migraines won't come for many years.

"There were already seven regions discovered, so we have 12 now," said Gormerly. "We think there should be many, many more, so there is still a lot of work to do."

More clues into migraines could help people who face other health conditions because of their severe headaches.

In January, research found people with migraines were at a greater risk for heart attacks and strokes. Previous research also found migraine sufferers are twice as likely to be depressed.

WebMD has more information on migraines.

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