Migraines: New Findings on Causes of Headaches

Migraines: New Findings on Causes of Headaches

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Study: Genetic malfunction of astrocytes triggers migraines

Migraines are different from ordinary headaches. In the event of a migraine attack, violent pain suddenly begins on only one side of the head. They are significantly more severe than ordinary headaches and are usually accompanied by other complaints. Researchers have now found that a genetic malfunction of astrocytes triggers migraines.

According to a recent report, researchers at the University of Zurich have deciphered the mechanism responsible for family-related migraines: Due to a genetic malfunction, certain brain cells that are responsible for pain processing cannot break down excess stimuli. Instead, they cause severe headaches.

Every seventh person suffers from migraines

Around one in seven people suffer from migraines. Those affected can literally be put out of action by the disease. Throbbing, pounding and one-sided headaches are typical. Other complaints such as nausea and vomiting, dizziness and loss of appetite are often added. In addition, many of those affected are sensitive to noise and light.

As stated in the communication from the University of Zurich, several indications indicate that the disease is caused by a disturbance in the processing and integration of sensory signals when seeing, hearing or smelling.

This dysfunction can also occur between the actual migraine episodes: Thus, even in the phases between two relapses, patients react much more intensely to sensory stimuli than people who are not affected by migraines. Which cellular mechanisms are responsible for this is still largely unknown.

Sickness is inheritable

Neuroscientists at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zurich, in collaboration with the University of Padua, were able to identify the mechanism for a specific form of the disease. According to the researchers, the so-called familial hemiplegic migraine type 2 (FHM2) is caused by a genetic mutation and is inheritable.

The team led by Mirko Santello is now showing that a malfunction of astrocytes in the cingulate cortex - a region of the brain that is involved in the sensation of pain - promotes migraines.

"Despite their frequency, the astrocytes, which strongly influence the processes of the central nervous system, have long been overlooked by neuroscience," explains Mirko Santello, the last author of the study, which was published in the scientific journal "Science Advances".

As explained in the release, the star-shaped cells are extremely important to break down the messenger substances released by the neurons. But it is precisely this function - the elimination of excess neurotransmitters such as glutamate - that astrocytes cannot perform in family-related migraines.

“Since the glutamate uptake of the astrocytes is impaired, the nerve cells in the cingulate cortex become much more excitable than normal. Which causes the neurons to release even more messenger substances, ”says Santello.

Findings could help in the development of new therapies

This malfunction in the cingulate cortex also affects the frequency of migraines. In the mouse model, the scientists show that the animals are more sensitive to the triggers of headaches.

“By genetically modifying the astrocytes in the cingular cortex, we were able to reverse their malfunction. This reduced the severe headache in mice with this genetic defect, ”explains Jennifer Romanos, lead author of the study.

Migraines are a complicated condition that affects a large part of the nervous system. "Our results clearly show how a genetic dysfunction of the astrocytes influences the activity of the neurons and makes them more sensitive to stimuli that trigger headaches," says Mirko Santello.

According to the expert, the study helps to better understand the pathophysiology of migraines and suggests that the cingular cortex is believed to be a critical node of the disease. According to the researchers, the findings could help to develop new treatment strategies for family migraines. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University of Zurich: Genetic malfunction of astrocytes triggers migraines, (accessed: June 24, 2020), University of Zurich
  • Jennifer Romanos, Dietmar Benke, Daniela Pietrobon, Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer, Mirko Santello: Astrocyte dysfunction increases cortical dendritic excitability and promotes cranial pain in familial migraine; in: Science Advances, (published: June 5, 2020), Science Advances

Video: The Neurobiology of Chronic Migraine (August 2022).