Dr. Nora Bourbia

Group Leader of the Neurobiology group at UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)

Scientific Journey

Scientific and Research Interests

Throughout my academic journey I was interested by the field of neuroepigenetics.

How and why adult on-set of neurological/neuropsychiatric disorders start? At which moment and how the brain cells trigger a succession of events that cascade to neuronal loss and memory decline in neurodegenerative disorders? How life events trigger depression and affective disorders? With the end-point question: Can we prevent and/or reverse the symptoms of these disorders/diseases?

To address these questions, I have followed an academic path to learn skills in animal behaviour, electrophysiology and genetics to implement them in my group at PHE (UK) to investigate the neuroepigenetics of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Academic education

  • Since December 2018
    Neurophysiology Group Leader
    PHE Chilton (UK)

    Group Leader of the Neurobiology and Physiology group at Public Health England, Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (PHE CRCE).

  • 2016 - 2018
    Post-Doctoral fellow
    MRC Harwell (UK)

    Postdoctoral fellow at MRC Harwell (UK) studying neurobehavioral genetics.

  • September 2014 & 2015
    University of Helsinki (FI)

    Problem-based learning teacher to students in Master’s Degree in Translational Medicine (TRANSMED) at university of Helsinki. Topic: Urinary Physiology ; September 2014 and September 2015.

  • 2010 - 2015
    PhD in Neurophysiology
    University of Helsinki (FI)

    PhD in Biomedicine in the field of neurophysiology of pain at University of Helsinki (Finland). Title: Central nucleus of the amygdala in descending control of pain-related behavior.

  • January - June 2009
    Internship on pain research
    University of Helsinki (FI)

    Topic of research: Involvement of CRF-BP in amygdala on pain. Department of physiology; University of Helsinki – Supervisor: Antti Pertovaara.

  • 2007 - 2009
    Master in Neuroscience
    University of Strasbourg (FR)

    Master’s degree in cellular and integrative neurosciences (distinction: “assez bien”) at University of Strasbourg (France).

  • June - July 2008
    Internship on amygdala neuroanatomy
    University of Strasbourg (FR)

    Topic of research: Neuroanatomy of amygdala. Department of nociception and pain; University of Strasbourg – Supervisor: Pierre Veinante.

  • 2007
    Bachelor in Physiology
    University of Strasbourg (FR)

    Bachelor’s degree in Physiology and cellular biology at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg (France).

  • June - July 2006
    Internship on primate behaviors
    University of Strasbourg (FR)

    Topic of research: Exchange capacity between primate and human beings. Institute of primatology in Strasbourg – Supervisor : Bernard Thierry.

Awards and Grants

Animal Free Research UK
Summer Studentship

To support a 2 months summer student to develop an epigenome tool to study the epigenetic of Parkison's Disease. £1,959 for 2 months (July to August 2021). SS2021-TC/v1.0/04.03.2021

NIHR HPRU Chemical & Radiation Threats & Hazards
Research Project Grants

Co-leading the Theme 4 - Neurotoxins and high toxicity agents of the NIHR HPRU Chemical & Radiation Threats & Hazards (total of £4M for 5 years 2020-2025). NIHR200922

Finnish cultural foundation
Research Project Grants

Stipend awarded by the Finnish cultural foundation. Topic “How the glutamatergic system of the central amygdala affects the sensory and emotional aspect of pain”, 44000 euros, April 2013, 2 years.

Emil Aaltosen säätiö
Research Project Grants

Stipend awarded by the foundation Emil Aaltonen. Topic “How the CRF of the central amygdala affects neuropathic pain”, 20000 euros, April 2012, 1 year.

Yrjö ja Tuulikki Ilvosen rahasto
Research Project Grants

Stipend awarded by the foundation Yrjö and Tuulikki Ilvonen. Topic: “How the central amygdala affects emotional pain”, 12000 euros, October 2011, 6 months.

Young Investigators Award

FEPS Award for Young Investigators presented at European Young Physiologist Symposium (EYPS), Budapest (Hungary), 2014.

WorldCon 75 Award
Public Engagement Awards

Winner of the academic poster presentation at the WorldCon 75, Helsinki (Finland) for presenting (talk and poster) my research in this World Science-Fiction Convention in 2017.

MRC Awards
Public Engagement Awards

Runner-up (2nd) with commendation letter for the MRC CEO Awards 2017 and winner of the MRC Harwell Awards 2017 in the category Public Engagement.

MRC Public Engagement Funding
Public Engagement Grant

MRC public engagement funding, grant to attend the WorldCon75, 250 pounds, 2017.

CIMO Scholarship

CIMO Scholarship to start my PHD at the University of Helsinki (FI), 13200 euros, October 2009 to September 2011.

ERASMUS Scholarship

ERASMUS scholarship, stipend for the internship at University of Helsinki (FI), 4800 euros, January to June 2009

IBRO Travel Grant
Travel Grant

IBRO (International Brain Research Organization), travel grant, 600 euros, 2017.

Chancellor's Travel Grant
Travel Grant

Chancellor’s (University of Helsinki) travel grant, 800 euros / travel, 2010, 2014 and 2015.

SPS Travel Grant
Travel Grant

Scandinavian physiology society, travel grant, 1000 SEK, 2010.

Scientific publications in refereed journals

  • Banks GT, Guillaumin MCC, Heise I, Lau P, Yin M, Bourbia N, Aguilar C, Bowl MR, Esapa C, Brown LA, Hasan S, Tagliatti E, Nicholson E, Bains RS, Wells S, Vyazovskiy VV, Volynski K, Peirson SN, Nolan PM., Forward genetics identifies a novel sleep mutant with sleep state inertia and REM sleep deficits, Sci Adv. 2020 Aug 12;6(33).
  • Bourbia N, Chandler P, Codner G, Banks G, Nolan PM., The guanine nucleotide exchange factor, Spata13, influences social behaviour and nocturnal activity, Mamm Genome. 2019 Apr;30(3-4):54-62
  • Bourbia N, Pertovaara A, Involvement of the periaqueductal gray in the descending antinociceptive effect induced by the central nucleus of amygdala, Physiological Research. 2018 Aug 16;67(4):647-655.
  • Sagalajev B, Bourbia N (share the first-authorship), Beloushko E, Wei H, Pertovaara A, Bidirectional amygdaloid control of neuropathic hypersensitivity mediated by descending serotonergic pathways acting on spinal 5-HT3 and 5-HT1A receptors, Behav Brain Res. 2014 Dec 31;282:14-24.
  • Bourbia N., Sagalajev B., Pertovaara A., Descending effect on spinal nociception by amygdaloid glutamate varies with the submodality of noxious test stimulation, Neuroscience Letters. 570 (2014) 26–31.
  • Bourbia N., Ansah OB., Pertovaara A., Corticotropin-releasing factor in the rat amygdala differentially influences sensorydiscriminative and emotional-like pain response in peripheral neuropathy, J Pain. 2010 Dec;11(12):1461-71.
  • Ansah OB., Bourbia N., Goncalves L., Almeida A., Pertovaara A., Influence of amygdaloid glutamatergic receptors on sensory and emotional pain-related behavior in the neuropathic rat, Behav Brain Res. 2010 May 1;209(1):174-8.


  • Gareth T. Banks, Mathilde C. C. Guillaumin, Ines Heise, Petrina Lau, Minghui Yin, Nora Bourbia, Carlos Aguilar, Michael R. Bowl, Chris Esapa, Laurence A. Brown, Sibah Hasan, Erica Tagliatti, Elizabeth Nicholson, Rasneer Sonia Bains, Sara Wells, Vladyslav V. Vyazovskiy, Kirill Volynski, Stuart N. Peirson, Patrick M. Nolan, Aberrant synaptic release underlies sleep/wake transition deficits in a mouse Vamp2 mutant, bioRxiv, https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.09.900233

Short Review

  • Bourbia N., Pertovaara A., Is finding the common biological link(s) between pain and affect an infinity quest? Scand J Pain. 2011 doi: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2011.05.001.


  • Gonçalves L., Bourbia N., Viisanen H., Ansah O.B., Almeida A., Pertovaara A., Amygdala in the control of neuropathic pain, 4th International Congress on Neuropathic Pain (May 23-26, 2013, Toronto, Canada, pages 53-57). Medimond, International Proceedings Division.

Oral Presentations

  • Joint meeting of the Federation of the European physiological societies (FEPS) and European Young Physiologist Symposium (EYPS), Budapest (Hungary), 27-30 august 2014. FEPS Award for young investigators.
  • European Pain School 2011: Bridging molecules and mind, Siena (Italy), 11-19 June 2011.

Poster Presentations

  • FENS Regional Meeting, Pécs (Hungary), 20-23 September 2017
  • 6th Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium 2017: Neural Networks in Health and Disease, Cambridge (UK), 7-8 September 2017
  • 9th Neuroscience Ireland Conference, Dublin (Ireland), 1-2 September 2015.
  • Joint meeting of the Federation of the European physiological societies (FEPS) and European Young Physiologist Symposium (EYPS), Budapest (Hungary), 27-30 august 2014.
  • Brain and Mind (B&M) Symposium 2014, Kirkkonummi (Finland), 11-12 September 2014.
  • Annual conference of the Scandinavian Physiological Society, Stockholm (Sweden), 22-24 August 2014.
  • Joint Meeting of the Scandinavian and German Physiological Societies, Copenhagen (Danemark), 27-30 March 2010.
  • 7th Forum of European Neurosciences (FENS), Amsterdam (Netherlands), 3-7 July 2010.


  • Pain and Nociception: Von Frey test, Hot Plate test, Hargreaves test, Place Avoidance Paradigm test.
  • Anxiety- and Depression-like: Light-Dark Box test, O and Y mazes, Force Swim test, Sucrose Preference.
  • Exploration: Open Field test.
  • Social Behaviors: Tube Dominance test, Three-Chamber Sociability and Social Novelty test.
  • Memory and Learning: Morris Water and Barnes Maze, Object Novelty test, Nose Poking tests.
  • Locomotion: Rotarod test.
  • Circadian Rhythms: Voluntary Activity using the running wheel in various light conditions.
  • Microsurgery: Spare Nerve Injury.
  • Stereotaxic Surgery: Intracerebral placement of guide cannulae and stereotaxic injection.
  • Dissection of various brain areas and organs.
  • In Vivo Extracellular Recording.
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • PCR and qPCR
  • Cloning
  • Cell Culture