Elucidating the relationship between migraine risk and brain structure using genetic data

International Headache Genetics Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Migraine is a highly common and debilitating disorder that often affects individuals in their most productive years of life. Previous studies have identified both genetic variants and brain morphometry differences associated with migraine risk. However, the relationship between migraine and brain morphometry has not been examined on a genetic level, and the causal nature of the association between brain structure and migraine risk has not been determined. Using the largest available genome-wide association studies to date, we examined the genome-wide genetic overlap between migraine and intracranial volume, as well as the regional volumes of nine subcortical brain structures. We further focused the identification and biological annotation of genetic overlap between migraine and each brain structure on specific regions of the genome shared between migraine and brain structure. Finally, we examined whether the size of any of the examined brain regions causally increased migraine risk using a Mendelian randomization approach. We observed a significant genome-wide negative genetic correlation between migraine risk and intracranial volume (rG = -0.11, P = 1 × 10-3) but not with any subcortical region. However, we identified jointly associated regional genomic overlap between migraine and every brain structure. Gene enrichment in these shared genomic regions pointed to possible links with neuronal signalling and vascular regulation. Finally, we provide evidence of a possible causal relationship between smaller total brain, hippocampal and ventral diencephalon volume and increased migraine risk, as well as a causal relationship between increased risk of migraine and a larger volume of the amygdala. We leveraged the power of large genome-wide association studies to show evidence of shared genetic pathways that jointly influence migraine risk and several brain structures, suggesting that altered brain morphometry in individuals with high migraine risk may be genetically mediated. Further interrogation of these results showed support for the neurovascular hypothesis of migraine aetiology and shed light on potentially viable therapeutic targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3214-3224
Number of pages11
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • GWAS
  • Mendelian randomization
  • brain
  • genetics
  • migraine


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