Higher levels of DKK1 and PDGFB blood proteins block certain cells from communicating with each other, leading to inflammation, while lower levels of FARS2, GSTA4 and CHIC2, which have an antioxidant function, also causes inflammation.
Nyholt said existing drugs already worked to alter those protein levels, which meant they could be repurposed as potential migraine treatments.
“If you can target those protein levels, lower them or raise them where relevant, that should reduce the frequency of migraines in people with those aberrant protein levels,” he said.
Higher levels of DKK1 and PDGFB blood proteins have also been associated with Alzheimer’s, because they affect the flow of blood to parts of the brain and can potentially cause calcification of cells.
Nyholt said that did not mean there was a link between migraines and Alzheimer’s but meant controlling those protein levels, especially DKK1, could prevent people prone to migraines from also developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
The results follow previous research from the same QUT group last year which found a series of metabolites in the blood and urine had a similar effect as the raised or lowered levels of blood proteins in this research.
Migraines affect three times as many women as men, and are estimated to cost the Australian economy over $35 billion a year in lost productivity and other measures, according to analysis from Deloitte.
A different benefit of the research, Nyholt said, was it would hopefully make studying migraines easier, as it gave researchers clues for the sorts of biomarkers to look for, and opened the door to more animal model research.
“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 hard to study because you can’t predict when someone will have one, but this allows us to look for underlying risk factors in the biology.”
The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.