Although a proper cure may still be many years away it must come as good news for migraine sufferers that the cause has been possibly identified as a flawed gene. A migraine is a long lasting and debilitating throbbing headache that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has rated as a leading cause of disability. It can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and a heightened sensitivity to light and sound.
Many sufferers are women (by a factor of about three to one over men) and there is usually a family history of the complaint.
A study in Nature Medicine is now suggesting that a flaw in the gene known as TRESK is the culprit after it was discovered in a family of migraine sufferers.
Part of the research problem has always been a sort of chicken and egg problem. What came first, the complaint or the thing that made sufferers different from non-sufferers.
For example. in 2007 it was found, after comparing 24 migraine sufferers with 12 non-sufferers, that the sufferers had a somatosensory cortex (which detects sensations like pain, touch and temperature in various parts of the body) that was 21% thicker than the non-sufferers. But as Dr Nouchine Hadjikhani said at the time, one possibility is that repeated, long-term over-stimulation of sensory fields in the cortex may cause it to become thicker over time. Another possibility is that people predisposed to migraines already have this thicker cortex.
In this latest study conducted by an international team, it was found that when the TRESK gene did not work properly outside factors can trigger the brain's pain centres causing the migraine.
The hunt is now on to identify a way of triggering the gene to do its job properly.