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Migraines' Genetic Clues Could Lead to Better Treatment

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About 14 percent of adults suffer from migraines, but despite their prevalence, scientists have struggled to find the biological roots of the sometimes debilitating disorder. Now, researchers have identified a dozen genetic regions linked to migraine susceptibility, according to a new study.

Knowing these genetic regions could help researchers better understand what triggers the severe headaches, and could lead to more personalized treatments for sufferers.

A team of researchers combed through 29 genomic studies, and sifted through gene markers from more than 100,000 tissue samples taken from both people who suffer from migraines, and those who do not.

The scientists found 12 genetic regions associated with migraine susceptibility, including two that are related to genes responsible for maintaining healthy brain tissue, said Aarno Palotie, a senior researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom and a visiting professor at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

"Anyone can have a migraine attack, but some of us are more susceptible to the triggers that wake up this type of cascade in the brain," Palotie told LiveScience.

Now that these genetic regions are known, the researchers can "zoom into" them, and look at the genetic markers that may be involved in migraines, he said.

Previously, very little was known about the biology of migraines, he added, because people are relatively healthy between attacks, which makes it difficult to pinpoint biochemical signatures of the neurological disorder, he added.

Understanding the biological triggers of migraines may lead to ways to prevent the headaches. Palotie said it is unlikely that migraines will become completely preventable, but genetic research should help physicians recommend more effective and personalized treatments for patients.

"One of the challenges in migraines, and many other diseases, has been that we are applying a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine," Palotie said. "If we understand more about the genetic landscape, we should be able to select better treatments on an individual basis."

He estimated that about 50 percent to 60 percent of migraine patients respond well to their prescribed treatment, but for the rest, there is room for improvement.

"A number of individuals may need more tailored treatments," Palotie said. "This research could help with that type of decision-making."

The detailed findings of the study were published June 23 in the journal Nature Genetics.

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Denise Chow

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, where she wrote about rocket launches and covered NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.