Washington: Brigham Young University chemistry professor Emily Bates has identified mutations in a gene that makes people more susceptible to migraine headaches.
The study is the first demonstration of a genetic cause for the common migraine and is an important step in the search for a cure.
"I had migraines really frequently and severely. I would lose my vision, vomit uncontrollably - it would wipe out an entire day," Bates said.
She decided then as a high school student that she was going to work on migraines, that she was going to figure them out and help find a cure.
After earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard, Bates did post-doctoral research with a team of geneticists led by Louis Ptacek at University of California San Francisco`s medical school.
This gene hunting party worked with two families that appeared to have a dominantly inherited form of the affliction.
The researchers zeroed in on genetic mutations these families had in common - mutations that affect production of a protein known as casein kinase delta.
To test whether this was a cause or a coincidence, Bates designed an experiment to determine whether the same genetic trait led to migraine symptoms in mice.
"All sensations become amplified with migraines, including touch, heat, sound and light," Bates, who continued work on the project when she took a position at BYU in 2009, said.
The researchers observed this heightened sensitivity in the migraine mice in very subtle ways - from the warmth of a tiny light and the pressure of a single hair-like filament.
The findings are set to be published in Science Translational Medicine.