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Potential Migraine Biomarker Found in the Blood

Potential Migraine Biomarker Found in the Blood

By: Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

Posted on: in News | Life Science News

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland, have identified a biomarker that may help doctors diagnose and treat patients suffering from episodic migraines. While many people are affected by episodic migraines, their cause is still widely unknown.

According to Dr. B. Lee Peterlin, the study’s primary author, “While more research is needed to confirm these initial findings, the possibility of discovering a new biomarker for migraine is exciting.” Their research was published yesterday in the journal Neurology.

A diagnosis of episodic migraine is made if a patient experiences 15 headache days or less, per month. This is in contrast to chronic migraines, in which individuals experience 15 or more headache days in a single month.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraines cost the US healthcare system an estimated $20 billion, each year. In addition, people who experience migraine headaches are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and fatigue.

In the current study, Peterlin and his colleagues collected data on a group of 52 women suffering from an average of 5.6 episodic migraine headache days per month. As a control, the researchers collected the same data on a group of 36 women who had not been diagnosed with episodic migraines.

Along with measuring the participants’ body mass index (BMI), the study coordinators took samples of their blood. The blood samples were analyzed for ceramide levels – a group of lipids that have been implicated in regulating inflammation in the brain.

Women who suffered from episodic migraines were found to have lower ceramide levels in the blood, compared the control group. The women who experience these headaches had an average blood ceramide concentration of 6,000 nanograms per milliliter. This concentration is almost half that found in the control patients; these participants had an average 10,500 nanograms of ceramides per milliliter of blood.

Peterlin and his colleagues identified a negative correlation between ceramide levels and risk of episodic migraines; as ceramide levels increased, the chance of episodic migraine decreased. The researchers hope that by identifying the cause of episodic migraines, new patient interventions and treatment options will be developed.

To confirm these results, the researchers analyzed the blood from 14 random participants, and quantified the amount of sphingomyelin found in each. By looking at the sphingomyelin levels, the researchers were able to accurately predict whether the blood sample was obtained from an episodic migraine sufferer, or a control participant.

“This study is a very important contribution to our understanding of the underpinnings of migraine and may have wide-ranging effects in diagnosing and treating migraine if the results are replicated in further studies,” Dr. Karl Ekbom, of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, writes. Two sphingomyelin-type lipids were also linked to an increased risk of migraine headaches.

The study coordinators admit that more research must be performed in order to confirm the biomarker. The current study tested a small group of women who experienced aura symptoms with their episodic migraines. Future studies must include a larger sample size including both sexes, in order to extrapolate the results to other demographic groups.

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