Researchers have found a faulty gene to be the trigger for migraines.
The results give hope to the one in five people who suffer from the neurological disorder that more advanced treatment can now be developed.
Research was undertaken by scientists at Oxford University along with colleagues in Canada.
Researchers took DNA samples from migraine sufferers and their families and discovered that the TRESK gene, which controls the sensitivity of pain nerves in the trigeminal ganglion, an area at the base of the brain, can, if defective, trigger pain centres in the brain more easily and cause the debilitating headaches.
The results also explain why people from the same family suffer from the condition.
Dr Zameel Cader, from the Medical Research Council’s Functional Genomics Unit at Oxford University, said: “We have now made a major step forward in our understanding of why people suffer with migraines and how, in certain cases, your family can literally give you a headache.
“Previous studies have identified parts of our DNA that increase the risk in the general population but have not found genes which can be directly responsible for common migraines.
“What we’ve found is that migraines seem to depend on how sensitive our nerves are in the pain centres of the brain.
“This finding should help lead to the key player which controls this excitability and will give us a real opportunity to find a new way to fight migraines and improve the quality of life for those suffering from them”.
The study, published in Nature Medicine, was funded by the Medical Research Council, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, Emerillon Therapeutics, the Wellcome Trust and Pfizer.