Unraveling the Genetics of Cluster Headaches: Trans-ancestry genome-wide meta-analysis of cluster headache is out

We are happy to announce the publication of our consortium’s most recent endeavor, a comprehensive genetic study on cluster headaches, which has been made available prior to print in the esteemed journal Annals of Neurology.


Cluster headaches, often deemed by many as the pinnacle of pain experiences, have long remained shrouded in biological mystery. Our collective effort sought to illuminate the enigmatic genetic factors behind this condition.


Key Takeaways from our Study:

  1. Extensive Data Analysis: Over 36,000 participants ,of which 4,777 had clinically diagnosed cluster headache, from ten European and one East Asian country contributed their genomic data. This remarkable dataset provided an unprecedented insight into the genetic landscape of cluster headaches.
  2. Smoking – A Risk Factor for Cluster Headache: Our findings indicate that smoking is a causal risk factor for the onset of cluster headaches. This has previously been hotly debated.
  3. Shared Genetic Patterns: Our study revealed fascinating shared genetic risks between cluster headaches and migraines, alongside other conditions such as ADHD and risk-taking behaviors.
  4. Biological Differences between Populations: We found intriguing genetic variances in cluster headache behaviors across European and East Asian populations.

Dr Manjit Matharu, a Professor of Neurology and headache researcher from the UK, stated, “Understanding that smoking may be a modifiable risk factor brings vital insights for patients and healthcare providers. It reinforces the message that efforts to quit smoking are essential in the management of patients with cluster headache.”

We deeply appreciate the commitment of every researcher, participant, and institution involved. It is through such rigorous collaboration that we can edge closer to alleviating the pain and suffering of people living with cluster headache worldwide.


For an in-depth exploration of our findings, we invite you to read the full paper here.



“This study was made possible by international collaborations across many countries, in the International Consortium for Cluster Headache Genetics. The study not only sets the groundwork for even more in-depth investigations into the causes of cluster headache by this consortium, but also emphasizes the importance of future studies to include cluster headache patients from a broader range of populations globally.”

Dr. Andrea Carmine Belin

Associate Professor, leader of the Centre for Cluster Headache,  Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

“Migraine is the only other headache disorder that has been properly explored genetically. It is fascinating that some genetic risk factors for cluster headache are shared with migraine, while others are not. Follow-up research from this study may give us insights into why they sometimes have similar symptoms and even respond to the same medications.”

Professor Arn van den Maagdenberg

Professor of molecular and functional neurogenetics at the departments of Human Genetics and Neurology, Leiden, the Netherlands

“Cluster headache behaves differently in different populations. For example, the link to biological clocks, such as attacks predictably coming at the same time each night, seems to be stronger in European than in Asian populations. Interestingly, one of the risk regions was specific to individuals from Taiwan, and was not seen in Europeans. We should explore further how the biology of cluster headache differs between populations, and if this has implications when considering treatment options.”

Dr Bendik S. Winsvold

Oslo University Hospital and the Norwegian Centre for Headache Research (NorHEAD), who led the study