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Pain signalling in migraine

Project details

Char Palfrey
University of Leeds
Research area
Headache and facial pain
Funding type
PhD studentship
Awarded in
March 2020

Char Palfrey was awarded a PhD studentship in March 2020 to pursue research to help understand the causes of migraine.

Char completed an MBiol in Neuroscience at the University of Leeds in 2020 and, as part this, undertook an extended laboratory research project under the supervision of Professor Nikita Gamper, a leading expert in the cellular, molecular and genetic mechanisms of pain. This honed Char’s interest in this area of research, and lays an excellent foundation from which to embark upon this PhD project, under the joint supervision of Professor Gamper and Dr Viktor Lukacs.

Char’s PhD project focuses on understanding what goes on in the nerve cells of migraine patients to give rise to such intense headache, to gain insight as to what might be the most effective type of medicines.


Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions, affecting more than 10 million people in the UK. It is a complex and disabling disorder with a variety of symptoms, usually featuring a severe headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision, nausea, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.

Whilst migraine can be treated effectively in some people - with drugs that reduce the severity of attacks, or drugs that can prevent attacks - these drugs do not work for everyone and do not cure migraine. New, more effective treatments are desperately needed.

Read more: About migraine

The role of ANO1 in pain signalling in migraine

During a migraine, activated nerve fibres in the head send pain signals to the brain and release an inflammatory substance, CGRP, which sensitises nerves, increasing pain signalling.

In groups of nerve cells further down the spine, research has suggested that a particular protein, called ANO1, has a role in increasing the activity of pain nerves, increasing the perception of pain.

Char’s research applies that hypothesis to groups of nerve fibres in the head that are activated during migraine – to investigate whether ANO1 plays a role in migraine, and whether it could be targeted by drugs to reduce pain signalling and migraine pain.  


There is huge unmet need for effective migraine treatments – to alleviate the debilitating effects and reduce the impact on patients’ lives.

The hope is that, by deciphering the mechanisms underlying migraine pain, Char's research will open up a new avenue of treatment options, increasing the chances of ultimate success in helping patients and finding a cure for migraine.

Equally important, through this PhD studentship, we are enabling a promising young researcher to pursue their interest in this important area of research, building up much-needed research capacity in this field.

Related projects

Headache and facial pain is one of our current research priorities, reflecting the large unmet need in this area. Our aim is to fund research to advance understanding of the underlying causes and mechanisms of headache and facial pain, and help advance diagnosis and treatment.

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