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Discovery May Lead to Relief for Migraineurs

Many migraine sufferers avoid bright lights, fearing that they will bring on a migraine attack, but hope for migraineurs might be in the wings now that researchers have discovered a molecule that blocks specialized light-sensitive receptors in the eye.

More than 10 years ago, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in Lo Jolla, Calif., discovered that melanopsin, a receptor found in neurons connecting the eyes and brain, is responsible for sensing light independently of normal vision. Since then, the researchers have determined that the receptor may exacerbate the light sensitivity associated with migraine headaches. They also determined melanopsin is important for maintaining sleep cycles and other circadian rhythms.

Researchers, led by Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at the Salk institute, hypothesized that if they could block melanopsin but not related receptors that provide vision information to the brain, they could eventually treat migraine or circadian rhythm imbalances.

In partnership with the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, and after a decade of work, the researchers found what they were looking for: chemicals that stop melanopsin from signaling the brain when the eyes are exposed to bright light and at the same time affect no other systems of the body.

Considerably more research is in progress, but Panda believes the compounds could prove to be very helpful.

“There are many people who would like to work when they have migraine pain exacerbated by light,” he said. “If these drugs could stop the light-sensitivity associated with the headaches, it would enable them to be much more productive.”

The authors also noted future drugs derived from this research could also help many others, including shift workers and people whose circadian rhythms are disturbed.

The study was published Aug. 25 in Nature Chemical Biology.

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