Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Migraine origin tracked to female X chromosomes

Headaches are annoying, but especially troublesome are the ones that appear regularly and greatly impede your functioning. Those headaches are collectively known as migraine, and there is little known about the underlying causes for these heavy headaches. Mostly women suffer from migraine attacks, but so far scientists have only been able to hint at why this happens. A study performed by the Griffith University has linked migraine to a genetic area found on the X chromosome, indicating why women are mostly struck by this debilitating form of headache.

Chromosomes are individual packages of DNA, and human beings have 23 distinguishable pairs: one set from each parent. Of these pairs, one of them has special properties: the sex chromosomes. Females have an X-X set, while men possess X-Y. Normally, embryos develop as females, but a gene present on the Y chromosome overturns development into that of a male. It also explains why some genetic diseases are more prevalent in either men or women. Men have only one X chromosome, so when parts of it are not functioning properly, for example, there is no backup. Women have the ability to 'use' the other X chromosome instead.

At the Griffith University, scientists discovered that migraine can be linked with parts on the X chromosome. Among those, a gene responsible for iron regulation in the brain was found. It is not yet clear how it works, but there must be an underlying mechanism that makes women more susceptible to migraine because of their double X chromosomes. It seems that the presence and activity of X-linked genes play an important role in the development of migraine.

While this study provides an interesting new look at migraine, we are far from fully unravelling the underlying mechanism behind it. The link with the X chromosome provides strong clues that it holds at least some responsibility for the increased prevalence of migraine in women, but that is all that can be said so far. Because women normally only use one X chromosome and partly shut down the other one, it must be more complicated, than simply saying that having an extra female chromosome is causing the problems.

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