According to research published in Nature Medicine, researchers have identified a gene that acts as a pain thermostat in the brain. An international study, including scientists at Oxford University, found that a gene called TRESK appears to be fundamental in causing migraines. It is believed that it controls the sensitivity of pain nerves in the brain and if faulty can bring the threshold so low that just living is painful.
This is why migraine sufferers are so sensitive to light, sounds and even touch. Until now, the genes responsible have been unknown.
A migraine is a severe, long-lasting headache usually felt as a throbbing pain at the front or on one side of the head.
Some people can have a warning visual “sign” before the start of the headache called an aura and many people also have symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to light during the headache itself. Scientists from Canada and Britain looked at the DNA make up of 110 migraine sufferers and their families. They found that a mutation in the TRESK gene appeared to be key cause of the condition – which is also hereditary.
The discovery was exciting because TRESK controls the sensitivity of pain nerves in the trigeminal ganglion, an area at the base of the brain. This gene is also susceptible to being switched on and off with drugs which means that it could be altered to increase the threshold to such an extent it eliminates the feeling of pain altogether.
The discovery of the gene means that scientists have a whole new pathway to controlling pain. Whereas painkillers work by numbing pain, this could effectively make the body immune to it.
Lee Tomkin, director of Migraine Action, said: “This is almost a red letter day for migraine sufferers. It is fantastic news and has a lot of implications. This is genuinely a really great step forward.”

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