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Research explains why women get more migraine

by Pragati Singh

A potential migraine causation mechanism has been revealed in research that was just published, and it may help to explain why women get more migraines than men. The research, published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, suggests that sex hormones affect the brain’s trigeminal nerve and blood vessels that are connected to it, with oestrogens, which are at their highest levels in women of reproductive age, playing a key role in making these cells more sensitive to migraine triggers. The discovery offers researchers a viable new path toward developing individualised medicines for migraine sufferers.

“We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences,” explains Professor Antonio Ferrer-Montiel from the Universitas Miguel Hernandez, Spain. “Although this is a complex process, we believe that modulation of the trigeminovascular system by sex hormones plays an important role that has not been properly addressed.”

In order to pinpoint the function of certain hormones, Ferrer-Montiel and his team combed through decades of research on sex hormones, migraine sensitivity, and cells’ reactions to migraine triggers. While some, like prolactin, tend to exacerbate migraines, some, like testosterone, seem to guard against them. They achieve this by altering how susceptible the cells’ ion channels are to migraine triggers, which regulate how the cells respond to external stimuli.

To understand the function of these hormones, considerably more study is required. However, oestrogen comes up as a crucial contender for explaining the prevalence of migraines. It was originally recognised as a contributing factor due to the higher occurrence of migraine in women who are menstruation and the link between various forms of migraine and changes in hormone levels that are associated to periods.

The information gathered by the study team currently reveals that oestrogen and variations in oestrogen levels make the trigeminal nerve’s surrounding cells more sensitive to stimuli. That makes starting a migraine attack simpler. Ferrer-Montiel warns that their research is preliminary nevertheless. Understanding the complicated impact that oestrogen and other hormones play in migraines will require a great deal more investigation. The authors stress the necessity for long-term studies examining the connection between migraines and menstrual hormones. Their present research depends on in vitro and animal models, which are difficult to apply to migraineurs in humans.

However, based on their present findings, Ferrer-Montiel and his colleagues believe that migraine treatment has a bright future. Pre-clinical, human-based models will be used to carry out further research that will more accurately represent actual patients.

If we are successful, we will advance the field of tailored medicine for the treatment of migraines, he claims.
The study is a component of a special collection of articles on cell membrane proteins as potential pharmacological targets.

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