Mutations on a single gene appear to increase the risk for both an unusual sleep disorder and migraines, a team in Science Translational Medicine.
The finding could help explain the links between sleep problems and migraines. It also should make it easier to find new drugs to treat migraines, researchers say.
And for one member of the research team, , the discovery represents a personal victory.
Bates remembers getting a lot of migraines in elementary school. They would start with nausea and changes in vision, she says. Then came the pain.
"Loud sounds and light kind of hurt my eyes and my ears and my head," she says. Moving or applying any sort of pressure to her skin also hurt.
The problem was embarrassing and caused her to miss a lot of school, Bates says. It also was frustrating, she says, because back then, in the 1990s, no one could tell her much about what was causing her migraines or how to stop them.
So Bates decided to become a scientist in order to understand "these bizarre, awful migraines." She earned a doctorate in genetics at Harvard in 2005. Then, a couple of years later, while working in a lab at the University of California, San Francisco, she got a remarkable opportunity.
Researchers in Los Angeles had been studying a family with a lot of migraines. The team discovered something really surprising about this family: They were early birds who were usually asleep by 8 p.m. and up by 5 a.m. The scientific name for the condition is "advanced sleep phase."
The researchers were able to trace the family's sleep disorder to a mutation on a gene that helps control circadian rhythms, says , a neurologist at UCLA. "We then turned our attention to the question of how this gene mutation could be involved in migraine," he says.
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