The work, which was recently distinguished by the Portuguese Society of Neurology with the Orlando Leitão Prize, aimed at the best oral communication presented at the annual congress of this scientific society, presents, according to i3S, "new data for the understanding of the disease and development of new therapies".
Migraines are a chronic disease characterised by episodes of severe headache, associated with neurological and autonomic symptoms. It has a very high prevalence (it is the third most common disease in the world, more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined) and a major socio-economic impact, being considered by the World Health Organization as the eighth cause of disability.
According to researcher Miguel Alves-Ferreira, from the UnIGENe group, "migraine has long been known that migraine has a large family component and, in a study of family aggregation in Portuguese patients, conducted by the group, it was found that family members in the 1st degree have a three to four times higher risk, compared to the general population, which suggests that there is a strong genetic component".
About the onset of the disease, the researcher explains that, although the physiological changes of migraine are not yet fully known, it is known that there are several mechanisms in the central nervous system that work in dominoes.
"First, there is a nerve that is activated, which causes neurons to release small particles, so-called neurotransmitters, followed by inflammation and dilation of blood vessels, which then triggers migraine (pain)," he says.
In this research work, Miguel Alves-Ferreira focused on the study of neurotransmitters and more specifically neurexin, a gene that is present in this release of neurotransmitters by neurons and that helps the physical proximity between neurons.
"I studied the genetic variants in 183 patients and how neurexin influences two other genes that are already known to be related to migraine, and I found that this gene interacts significantly with the other two," explains the researcher.
With this study, "it was possible to demonstrate for the first time the involvement of the gene called neurexin in migraine. This gene, which plays an essential role in the adherence of neurons during synapse (helps physical proximity in the process of communication between neurons), and their interactions with other genes of the central nervous system can help solve a puzzle of immense complexity, allowing us a better understanding of migraine and the development of new therapeutic approaches", stresses Miguel Alves-Ferreira.