Genetic mutations, migraine auras, and epilepsy

Genetic research into migraine continues to suggest directions of treatment that haven’t been widely considered before.  The latest studies out of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the USA are doing just that, and also increasing interest in studying links between migraine and epilepsy.

Here’s the story in brief.  The study is about a rare form of migraine known as Familial Hemiplegic Migraine type 3.  Studies of FHM have helped us understand genetic markers in the past.  Often the focus has been on what are called calcium channels in the body.

But the new research is focusing on something different – sodium channels.  A mutant gene causes problems with the normal functioning of the calcium channel in the body.  Sodium channels act as "gateways" to allow sodium into the cell.  When the channel gets "stuck" open, too much sodium gets through.

It may be that the genetic problem is involved in causing the cortical spreading depression in the brain, which comes early in the migraine chain of events.

Though FHM3 is not a common form of migraine, there may be some similarities here with more common forms.  And it looks like drugs that act as sodium channel blockers may be worth further investigation.

The team at Vanderbilt University was studying the same gene for epilepsy issues.  Finding a common cause between migraine and epilepsy could strengthen the suspected link between the two diseases.

The Vanderbilt Medical Center has an article on this research published yesterday if you want more depth – Mutations reveal clues to biological basis of migraines.

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