Higher levels of blood proteins DKK1 and PDGFB prevent certain cells from communicating with each other, leading to inflammation, while lower levels of FARS2, GSTA4 and CHIC2, which have antioxidant function, also cause inflammation.
Nyholt said existing drugs already work to alter these protein levels, which means they could be repurposed as potential migraine treatments.
“If you can target those protein levels, lower them or raise them where appropriate, that should reduce the frequency of migraines in people with those aberrant protein levels,” he said.
Higher levels of blood proteins DKK1 and PDGFB have also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as they affect blood flow to certain parts of the brain and can potentially cause cells to calcify.
Nyholt said that doesn’t mean there’s a link between migraines and Alzheimer’s disease, but does mean that controlling these protein levels, especially DKK1, could prevent migraine-prone people from developing as well. Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
The results follow previous research from the same QUT group last year which found that a range of metabolites in blood and urine had a similar effect as raised or lowered blood protein levels in this research.
Migraines affect three times as many women as men and are estimated to cost the Australian economy more than $35 billion a year in lost productivity and other metrics, according to analysis by Deloitte.
Another benefit of the research, Nyholt said, was that it would hopefully make it easier to study migraines, as it gave researchers clues about what types of biomarkers to look for and opened the door to more research into animal models.
“It’s very difficult to do migraine studies in animals, because how do you know if a rat has a headache, it can’t tell you,” he said.
“Migraines are also an episodic disorder, they come and go, which makes them difficult to study because you can’t predict when someone will have one, but it allows us to look for underlying risk factors in the biology.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Communication.