Latent Class and Genetic Analysis Does Not Support Migraine with Aura and Migraine without Aura as Separate Entities

Dale R. Nyholt, Nathan G. Gillespie, Andrew C. Heath, Kathleen R. Merikangas, David L. Duffy, Nicholas G. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Latent class and genetic analyses were used to identify subgroups of migraine sufferers in a community sample of 6,265 Australian twins (55% female) aged 25-36 who had completed an interview based on International Headache Society (IHS) criteria. Consistent with prevalence rates from other population-based studies, 703 (20%) female and 250 (9%) male twins satisfied the IHS criteria for migraine without aura (MO), and of these, 432 (13%) female and 166 (6%) male twins satisfied the criteria for migraine with aura (MA) as indicated by visual symptoms. Latent class analysis (LCA) of IHS symptoms identified three major symptomatic classes, representing 1) a mild form of recurrent nonmigrainous headache, 2) a moderately severe form of migraine, typically without visual aura symptoms (although 40% of individuals in this class were positive for aura), and 3) a severe form of migraine typically with visual aura symptoms (although 24% of individuals were negative for aura). Using the LCA classification, many more individuals were considered affected to some degree than when using IHS criteria (35% vs. 13%). Furthermore, genetic model fitting indicated a greater genetic contribution to migraine using the LCA classification (heritability, h2=0.40; 95% CI, 0.29-0.46) compared with the IHS classification (h2=0.36; 95% CI, 0.22-0.42). Exploratory latent class modeling, fitting up to 10 classes, did not identify classes corresponding to either the IHS MO or MA classification. Our data indicate the existence of a continuum of severity, with MA more severe but not etiologically distinct from MO. In searching for predisposing genes, we should therefore expect to find some genes that may underlie all major recurrent headache subtypes, with modifying genetic or environmental factors that may lead to differential expression of the liability for migraine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-244
Number of pages14
JournalGenetic Epidemiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Etiology
  • Headache continuum
  • Heritability
  • Twins


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