Professor Aarno Palotie, chair of the international headache genetics consortium at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Britain and colleagues looked at genetic data from 50,000 people from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands in an attempt to unearth some genetic clues to migraine. Migraine affects around one in six women and one in 12 men, and has been estimated to be the most expensive brain disorder to society in the European Union and the United States.
Palotie's team identified a particular migraine risk DNA variant on chromosome 8 between two genes known as PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1.
Their research showed that it appears to regulate levels of glutamate, a chemical known as a neurotransmitter which transports messages between nerve cells in the brain.
It does this by altering the activity of MTDH/AEG-1 in cells, which regulates the activity of the EAAT2 gene – a protein responsible for clearing glutamate from brain synapses.
Previous research has found links between EAAT2 and other neurological diseases, including epilepsy, schizophrenia and various mood and anxiety disorders but up till now,no genetic link had been identified to suggest that glutamate accumulation in the brain could play a role in common migraine.
The researchers said that further research would be needed into the DNA variant, and into its effect on the genes around it, to find out more about how migraines occur. Further work was also needed to search for other possible genetic links.
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First Published in August 2010
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