For people who suffer from debilitating migraine headaches, advances toward alleviating their agony can't come quickly enough. Now a report, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, details evidence that one kind of migraine disorder is a hereditary condition. The findings may help researchers isolate the gene that predisposes people to migraines and engineer more effective treatments.

Previous research involving twins had suggested that migraines have a significant genetic component. In the new study, Aarno Palotie of the University of California at Los Angeles and his colleagues studied 50 Finnish families whose multigenerational members suffer from the disorder known as migraine with typical aura (MA). MA is a less common form of migraine in which visual disturbances precede by about an hour the typical migraine symptoms: pulsating pain on one side of the head, pain behind one eye, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea and vomiting. The researchers found three common genetic markers linked to a region on chromosome 4 in 30 percent of the study participants. "For the first time, we have proof of an isolated genetic link to migraine," Palotie says. "Now that we have narrowed down the hunting ground, these findings provide us with a focused direction for identification of the gene itself."