As the most widely consumed drug around the globe, there is a vast array of contradicting research available on caffeine. One of the most debated and researched topics on caffeine is its effect on the brain. Meanwhile, the data on the neurological condition of migraine has information scattered throughout countless research articles and experiments.

Although neither migraine or caffeine are completely understood by the medical world, this analysis attempts to give a more coherent understanding of the relationship between the two. This is done by first understanding the known and theorized mechanisms of caffeine as well as the pathologies of migraine. Discussions on channelopathies, current migraine medications, and case studies will be presented.

After much background research, we hypothesized that caffeine could excite neurons at physiological concentrations to the point of activation. This was tested by targeting the transcription factor cFos using immunocytochemistry in vitro. The protein cFos was identified due to its rapid translation—just 15 minutes after stimuli—to indicate activation. In addition to a control culture, three different caffeine concentrations were tested on the neurons: 50 micromoles— average plasma level after 1-2 cups of coffee consumption, 100 micromoles—average plasma level after 5-6 cups of coffee also believed to be the therapeutic amount to defend against neurological diseases such as Alzheimers Disease, and 250 micromoles—the average plasma level considered to be toxic in humans. Indeed, we saw a 53.8% increase in cFos expression in the neurons as 100 micromolar of caffeine was added and exposed to the cell cultures for 24 hours.

In order to ensure the results obtained in this study were physiologically relevant in vivo, known toxic levels were tested for in vitro neurotoxicity. It was found in vitro that at the non toxic plasma concentrations of 50 micromolar and 100 micromolar of caffeine did not display cellular death as tested by Trypan Blue viability testing, Crystal Violet morphologies, and fleurojade immunochemistry that tests for degeneration. Each of these experiments identified a significant death increase as the toxic level of 250 micromoles of caffeine were utilized. This allowed us to theorize that the activation of neurons found in these experiments due to caffeine exposure would apply the same effect in vivo.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Samsam, Mohtashem


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences; Molecular and Microbiology


Orlando (Main) Campus



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date

August 2016