Dr Lucy Donaldson

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Dr Lucy Donaldson

Medical Sciences Building, University Walk, Bristol
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Telephone Number (0117) 331 2259
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School of Physiology and Pharmacology

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Sensory mechanisms in health and disease

Research overview

My research interests focus on sensory systems in health and disease. The group has a dual emphasis on the senses of taste andtouch/pain.

Pain research

The treatment of pain is a large clinical problem. More than 7 million people in the UK suffer from pain at any one time, and 5 million people develop chronic pain every year. Much of this pain is not treated effectively. Arthritis is one of the most common diseases, affecting 1 in 10 people. Many people with arthritis do not only have painful joints, but they also have pain in other parts of their bodies that are, apparently, unrelated to the arthritic focus.

Tissue damage or inflammation are found in arthritis, and injury to nerves. This is detected by sensory neurones, and causes them to send signals (electrical action potentials) to the spinal cord, where this information is processed. Spinal cord neurones then communicate signals to different parts of the brain, as a result of which pain is perceived, and reactions to the pain, such as altered breathing and heart rate are stimulated. 

Our research concentrates primarily on how the tissue damage affects the sensory neurones in the tissues- which processes/molecules effect changes in neurones, how does this occur, how does that relate to the alteration in pain, and if/how it can be blocked. In collaboration with colleagues in Bristol and elsewhere we are studying neuronal mechanisms through which ongoing and evoked pain are generated, ways in which the brain can affect the processing of the input into the spinal cord, and ways in which pain can be blocked.

Taste research

My taste research is all in collaboration with Dr Jan Melichar, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Psychopharmacology.

Taste is an important primary chemical sense that has evolved to aid in the avoidance of poisons or irritants, and the consumption of essential nutrients. It is now becoming recognised that human taste is disturbed under many normal, such as in ageing, and clinical conditions, such as in cancer, following drug treatment, and in neurological conditions, and in depression and anxiety.

Our research is concentrating on whether taste can be used as a biomarker for disease processes - how is taste modulated in disease conditions, and can that tell us something about the underpinning disease process? For example if taste is disturbed in depression, can that be used as a method of determining whether depression has an organic, neurotransmitter cause, and can it be used to predict the optimal drug treatment for a patient?

We are also looking at taste responses and their relationship to body weight, smoking status, and stress level.

Our research depends critically on the use of experimental animals and animal tissues; without animals we could not achieve our goals. For more general information about the use of animals in biomedical research, and on the debate surrounding such use, please see http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/

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Key words

Sensory mechanisms, nociception, pain

Key findings

Pain research

  1. Dunham JP, Leith JL, Lumb BM and Donaldson LF. Transient Receptor Potential Channel A1 and noxious cold responses in rat cutaneous nociceptors. Neuroscience 165 (2010) 1412-1419
  2. Hulse RP, Wynick, D and Donaldson LF. Intact cutaneous C fibre afferent properties in mechanical and cold neuropathic allodynia. Eur J Pain (2010) 14(6):565.e1-565.e10
  3. Dunham JP, Kelly S and Donaldson LF. Inflammation reduces mechanical thresholds in a population of TRPA1-expressing nociceptors in the rat. European Journal of Neuroscience 27(12) (2008) 3151-3160.
  4. Leith JL, AW. Wilson, LF. Donaldson & BM. Lumb. COX-1 derived prostaglandins in the periaqueductal grey differentially control C- versus A-fibre-evoked spinal nociception. Journal of Neuroscience 27(42) (2007) 11296-305.

Taste research

  1. Donaldson LF, Bennett L, Baic S and Melichar JK. Taste and weight : is there a link? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90(3) (2009) 800S-803S
  2. Donaldson LF and Melichar JK. Bitter now but better later? How what you feel affects what you taste. Biologist 55(3) (2008) 147-153
  3. Emma L. Mullings, Lucy F. Donaldson, Jan K. Melichar, Marcus R. Munafò. Effects of acute abstinence and nicotine administration on taste perception in cigarette smokers. J Psychopharmacol (2009) (doi: 10.1177/0269881109105395)
  4. Heath, T.P., Melichar, J.K., Nutt, D.J. and Donaldson, L.F. Human taste thresholds are modulated by serotonin and noradrenaline. Journal of Neuroscience 26(49) (2006) 12664-71.

Diseases related to this field of research

Arthritis, inflammation, nerve injury

Processes and functions relevant to this work

Neuronal response to inflammation, contribution of the nervous system to inflammation, nerves and the spread of arthritis

Research group

Nick Beazley-Long, Robert Drake, Jim Dunham, Stephanie Hares, Meng-Tzu Hsieh, Richard Hulse, Lisa James, Roger Watkins

Techniques in routine use

Immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridisation, RT- PCR, elctrophysiology, behavioural studies, histology and histochemistry, Western blotting, Northern blotting

Equipment in routine use

PCR, electrophysiology equipment, microscopes, image capture and analysis


School of Physiology and Pharmacology

  • Sally Lawson
  • Bridget Lumb
  • David Wynick
  • Bruce Matthews
  • Dave Bates
  • Steve Harper

Dr Jan Melichar - Psychopharmacology - University of Bristol, Dr Hans-Peter Kubis -University of Bangor, Prof K Vedhara - University of Nottingham


Year 1 BDS Physiology - GI tract, Somatosensation and Pain
Year 2, 3 BDS Oral Biology course - Oral physiology

Public engagement

I work with local schools promoting science teaching and research. I contribute to media articles on sensory neuroscience, and have acted as a consultant to various inductries. Please contact the University of Bristol Press office with any enquiries.

Latest publications

  1. Green, A, Kaul, A, O'Shea, J, Sharma, E, Bennett, L, Mullings, EL, Munafò, MR, Nutt, DJ, Melichar, JK & Donaldson, LF 2013, ‘Opiate agonists and antagonists modulate taste perception in opiate-maintained, and recently detoxified subjects.’. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), vol 27., pp. 265-75
  2. Beazley-Long, N, Hua, J, Jehle, T, Hulse, RP, Dersch, R, Lehrling, C, Bevan, H, Qiu, Y, Lagreze, WA, Wynick, D, Churchill, AJ, Kehoe, P, Harper, SJ, Bates, DO & Donaldson, LF 2013, ‘VEGF-A(165)b Is an Endogenous Neuroprotective Splice Isoform of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A in Vivo and in Vitro’. The American journal of pathology, vol 183., pp. 918-929
  3. Srivastava, S, Donaldson, LF, Rai, D, Melichar, JK & Potokar, JP 2013, ‘Single bright light exposure decreases sweet taste threshold in healthy volunteers’. J Psychopharmacol.
  4. Kelly, S, Dunham, JP, Murray, F, Read, S, Donaldson, LF & Lawson, SN 2012, ‘Spontaneous firing in C-fibers and increased mechanical sensitivity in A-fibers of knee joint-associated mechanoreceptive primary afferent neurones during MIA-induced osteoarthritis in the rat’. Osteoarthritis and cartilage / OARS, Osteoarthritis Research Society, vol 20., pp. 305-13
  5. Hulse, R, Donaldson, L & Wynick, D 2012, ‘Peripheral galanin receptor 2 as a target for the modulation of pain’. Pain Res Treat, vol 2012., pp. 545386 - 545386
  6. Hulse, RP, Donaldson, LF & Wynick, D 2012, ‘Differential roles of galanin on mechanical and cooling responses at the primary afferent nociceptor’. Molecular Pain, vol 8., pp. 41
  7. Irvine, M, Costa, B, Dlaboga, D, Culley, G, Hulse, R, Scholefield, C, Atlason, P, Fang, G, Eaves, R, Morley, R, Mayo-Martin, M, Amici, M, Bortolotto, Z, Donaldson, L, Collingridge, G, Molnar, E, Monaghan, D & Jane, D 2012, ‘Piperazine-2,3-dicarboxylic acid derivatives as dual antagonists of NMDA and GluK1-containing kainate receptors’. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, vol 55., pp. 327 - 341
  8. Qiu, Y, Seager, M, Osman, A, Castle-Miller, J, Bevan, H, Tortonese, DJ, Murphy, D, Harper, SJ, Fraser, HM, Donaldson, LF & Bates, DO 2012, ‘Ovarian VEGF(165)b expression regulates follicular development, corpus luteum function and fertility’. Reproduction (Cambridge, England), vol 143., pp. 501-11
  9. Oltean, S, Gammons, M, Hulse, RP, Hamdollah-Zadeh, MA, Mavrou, A, Donaldson, LF, Salmon, AHJ, Harper, SJ, Ladomery, MR & Bates, DO 2012, ‘SRPK1 inhibition in vivo : modulation of VEGF splicing and potential treatment for multiple diseases’. Biochemical Society transactions, vol 40., pp. 831-5
  10. Oltean, S, Gammons, M, Hulse, R, Hamdollah-Zadeh, M, Mavrou, A, Donaldson, L, Salmon, AH, Harper, SJ, Ladomery, MR & Bates, DO 2012, ‘SRPK1 inhibition in vivo: modulation of VEGF splicing and potential treatment for multiple diseases’. Biochemical Society transactions, vol 40., pp. 831-5

Full publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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