Genetic research into migraines may expand our understanding of brain diseases

26 Jul 2016

Research on the genes causing a predisposition to migraines may help us to understand brain disorder reactions. Research funded by the Academy of Finland is exploring the genetic predisposition to migraine attacks. Although finding these genes will be no panacea for migraines, it will provide key insights into the functioning of the brain and its blood vessels in the case of other brain diseases too.

"By examining the genetic background of migraines, we will gain a better understanding of the basic mechanisms of migraines and other brain diseases – an achievement which would not be possible using any other method. This will also help us to understand the role that genes play in determining how the brain reacts to external stimuli", says Professor Aarno Palotie, Head of Research.

The genetic research in question, which is the most extensive ever performed on an individual disease, has identified 38 genes predisposing people to migraines and identified a link between the predisposition and vascular genes. The objective is to find dozens of new genes responsible for the predisposition. It is thought that hundreds or even thousands of genomic regions will be found in the future.

Studying brain diseases is difficult

Unlike other organs, biopsies cannot be taken from the brain and brain diseases, such as migraines or schizophrenia, cannot be imaged. The diseases' existence is based solely on patients' accounts of the symptoms, which makes the ailments difficult to study.

The benefit of genetic research is that it eliminates the need to go down to the level of cellular activity. Only the question of whether certain genes are linked to the observed disease is explored.

"Genetic research allows us to delve into the background factors of brain diseases and form a more precise diagnosis for migraines. The challenge lies in how to apply the list of susceptibility genes to cellular activity in practice", Palotie says.

Medical research is in transition

According to Palotie, genetic research into migraines is an example of the changes through which medical research is going. This Finnish-led research includes over twenty laboratories around the world.

"The cooperation networks are more extensive than before and research materials are often produced far from where the researcher analysing them is working", Palotie comments.

The objective of genetic research of migraines is to confirm the presence of genes that can be linked to this occasionally symptomatic brain disease. In the long term, a patient's genetic background could be used to assist in the choice of medication. Genetic research of migraines has a major financial impact since, due to lost working time, migraines are one of the most expensive neurological diseases that affect a large segment of the population.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Aarno Palotie, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 567 0826 (Sari Kivikko), e-mail

Project coordinator Sari Kivikko, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 567 0826

Academy of Finland, Communications  
Niina Kellinsalmi
tel. +35829533 5062                                                              


Last modified 26 Jul 2016
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