1 November 2023

Half of million Danes have it – now, reseachers are chasing risk genes


Researchers have discovered new migraine genes which contain new and more accurate information about the condition of the individual patient. This may lead to more targeted treatment.

Person with headache holding their head
Photo: Canva.com

Around 500,000 Danes suffer from migraine, which is one of the most common neurological conditions in the world. Researchers have just discovered a series of new genes associated with particular forms of migraine.

In the Danish-Icelandic study based on data on more than a million participants, the researchers have discovered 44 new risk genes for migraine. The results build on previous studies by the same group identifying 123 genes associated with migraine.

“It is vital that we are able to discover more details, that is, genes, in our migraine-oriented analyses of the genome. Details about the risk of migraine or whether a given patient suffers from migraine with or without aura may prove useful in the future for devising treatments or determining whether a particular form of treatment will work,” says Head of Research Thomas Folkmann Hansen. He works at the Danish Headache Center at Rigshospitalet and as associate professor at the University of Copenhagen.

The study was conducted by deCODE genetics in Iceland, while the test subjects included participants from the Danish Headache Center and the Danish Blood Donor Study. The results have been published in the renowned scientific journal Nature Genetics.

The study is the latest in a series of studies focussing on the complex genetics of migraine. Aside from discovering new genes, the researchers have used new methods to analyse their findings, which may affect our understanding of migraine – and thus future treatments.

Better insight into the biology of migraine

The Head of Research highlights two particular genes. Not only can these two genes reveal whether a person is at risk of developing migraine; they can also, depending on their so-called expression, determine whether they are at risk of migraine with or without aura and even if they are at risk of aura without migraine.

Around a third of those who suffer from migraine experience migraine with aura. Aura is the collective name for a series of symptoms such as visual disorders, sensory disturbances, temporary paralysis and speech disorders preceding migraine attacks.

“We are beginning to understand which genes are associated with migraine with and without aura, respectively, and that is what is so interesting about the new study. We are gradually gaining an understanding of which genes control migraine-related visual disorders and which control the headache,” Thomas Folkmann Hansen explains.

If the researchers are able to discover more and more details about migraine genes, their analyses will provide more accurate insight into the biology behind migraine and what differentiates migraine with and without aura.

Treatment in time

The researchers hope the new knowledge may eventually lead to better treatment for migraine.  

“We are not there yet, but we hope our findings will contribute to the design of new, more effective therapies for migraine. More importantly, we are now able to identify patients at high risk of migraine, which will enable us to offer them the right treatment at an early stage of the disease. This may really improve the quality of life of these patients,” says CEO of deCODE genetics Kari Stefansson.

The researchers hope that detailed information about known migraine genes and greater understanding of their options may be combined with clinical testing.

The aim is to further develop gene analysis to such an extent that it can help practitioners identify the best treatment for the individual patient.

“If we were able to do that, I believe it would speed up the process of identifying the best treatment for the individual patient. It will save time and trouble and eventually improve the quality of life of migraine patients,” Thomas Folkmann Hansen concludes.


Associate Professor Thomas Folkmann Hansen
Novo Nordisk Center for Protein Research
Dansk Hovedpinecenter, Rigshospitalet
+45 22 82 56 59