DNA Offers Ray of Hope to Sufferers of Migraines with Auras

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In partnership with Montréal University, neurologist Guy A. Rouleau and geneticist Ron Lafrenière of Montréal have conducted research that sheds new light on migraines with auras.

Genomics Offers Ray of Hope to Sufferers of Migraines with Auras

Genomics is giving migraine sufferers a glimmer of hope. Two Montréal researchers, in partnership with Oxford University, have identified a genetic mutation believed to be the key cause of migraines with auras. Let’s shed light on this scientific breakthrough.

What is a
Migraine with Aura?

Migraines are chronic, debilitating headaches that can last hours and even days. A migraine with an aura is preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs and symptoms such as seeing flashes of light or dark spots or experiencing a tingling sensation in the limbs. Approximately 25 percent of migraine sufferers have migraines with auras. They can cause sensitivity to light, sound and smells and, in some cases, nausea and vomiting.



The TRESK protein, the missing piece of the puzzle
Until recently, researchers had been unable to identify the exact causes of migraines. Through genomics, a part of that mystery has finally been unravelled. Neurologist Guy A. Rouleau and geneticist Ron Lafrenière conducted research that helped them discover the missing piece of the migraine puzzle.

After countless analyses, the two scientists and their teams noted a genetic mutation that was interfering with the production of a protein called TRESK. This protein plays an important role in nerve cell communication by controlling their level of excitability. The mutation causes the truncated – or faulty – production of the TRESK protein, an anomaly that disrupts how the protein functions and modifies the electrical activity of nerve cells. When the TRESK protein is unable to do its job, cells overreact to stimuli such as smells, light and stress, leading to a migraine with aura.

What is a
Genetic Mutation?

A mutation is a modification of the genetic information in the genome of a cell or virus. It involves a change in the sequence of DNA, the molecule of heredity. Mutations can be caused by errors that occur when DNA copies itself, the adaptation of a species to its environment or exposure to mutagenic agents like radiation. Genetic mutations are also the main drivers of evolution.


New treatments on the horizon

While the mutation only affects a small number of migraine sufferers, this scientific discovery opens up a whole new avenue for research into possible treatments. For instance, a drug could be used to activate the TRESK protein in order to reduce the frequency and severity of all types of migraine headaches.


To learn more on this subject, read the article L'ADN de la migraine published in the French-language science news magazine Québec Science (February 2011).

Guy A. Rouleau

Guy Rouleau, Co-Principal Investigator of CARTaGENE, and Professor at CHU Sainte-Justine, Université de Montréal


Over the long term, CARTaGENE will contribute to better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, in turn helping to improve Québec’s healthcare system."

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Ron Lafreniere

“Our research has led to the discovery of a mutation that hinders the proper function of the TRESK protein in family members who suffer from migraines with auras. We also noted that every member of that family who had migraines carried the genetic mutation.” 

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