Congenital Migraine Mutations alter the Calcium-Dependent Regulation of P/Q-type Calcium Channels and Affect Synaptic Plasticity

Migraine headaches affect approximately 15 percent of the Western population. However, the complicated genetic and underlying physiological basis of migraine has resulted in both slow advancement in new treatments and poor understanding of the disease at the cellular level. Familial Hemiplegic Migraine (FHM) is a type of migraine with similar clinical features to typical migraine, and likely with similar cellular mechanisms, but with well-understood genetics. FHM has become a leading model for studying typical migraine. FHM is clinically characterized by migraine headaches, usually preceded by visual or auditory auras (sensations), and accompanied by hemiparesis (one side of the patients body undergoes varying degrees of paralysis during the migraine attacks). The migraine symptoms can last from a few minutes to several days. Approximately 50 percent of patients with FHM have mutations in the CACNA1A gene, which codes for a type of calcium channel protein that is primarily responsible for facilitating communication between neurons in the brain. Paul Adams’ research focuses on identifying FHM genetic mutations in patients and then introducing those mutations into cloned calcium channel genes. The effects of the FHM mutation on calcium channel properties can then be studied by introducing the mutated channel into a human cell line and then studying the channel using electrical recording techniques. Additionally, the effects of FHM mutations on communication between neurons in the living brain will be studied in mice that have been genetically engineered to contain human FHM mutations in their CACNA1A gene. The results of Adams’ research will provide a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind FHM, and thereby contribute to the development of more effective therapies for all types of migraine headaches.