Over 23 million people suffer from migraines. And although plenty of researchers are trying to find a solution to these incredibly painful headaches, so far, they remain poorly understood and incredibly difficult to treat.
Part of the struggle of treating migraines is our lack of understanding of how they actually work. Scientists know that it relates to inflammation and the contraction and dilation of blood vessels, but the specific mechanisms of the migraine are still a relative mystery. This makes migraines especially challenging to treat or prevent.
Researchers Pinpoint Pain-Causing Chemical
Dr. Greg Dussor, an associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, recently conducted a study on the role of a specific protein in migraines in rats.
Dussor knew that much of the pain signaling tied to migraines originates in the meninges, which are membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Other studies have indicated that migraine patients have elevated levels of a specific protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), although scientists have yet to be able to identify the role it plays.
Dussor’s research team wanted more information on how these things related. First, they purposefully stimulated rats’ meninges to trigger a migraine attack. Then, they injected the rats with a drug that absorbs BDNF. The result was incredible: The rats became desensitized to future migraines, even when specifically exposed to stimuli that should cause them.
This result has led Dussor to suspect that the presence of BDNF in the brain keeps migraine patients sensitive to future instances of migraine pain. This could even be related to why some people experience stress, lack of sleep, bright lights, or other common migraine triggers and have no response, and others experience crippling migraine headaches in response to the same stimuli.
What This Means for Migraine Treatment
This research by no means solves the puzzle of how BDNF is related to migraines, nor does it present a quick and easy cure. However, it does take researchers one step further towards understanding, and could be key in the development of future migraine treatments. Dussor is hopeful that this research can ultimately help identify the root cause of migraines.
Unfortunately, for those suffering from migraines today, this research means very little. Treatment for migraines can still be very hit-or-miss, and prevention is rarely possible beyond simply doing one’s best to avoid triggers. Step one to better preventing or treating migraines is to identify the source, but for many people, that can be difficult or even impossible.
One possible source of migraines for some people is TMJ. Misalignment of the bite and tension in the jaw can trigger migraines in many sufferers. TMJ can be challenging to diagnose because the symptoms can be so diverse, but if you think your migraines might be a result of TMJ, TMJ treatment might be able to reduce their frequency, or prevent them altogether.