Tonabersat is a novel putative migraine prophylactic agent with an unique stereospecific binding site in the brain. Tonabersat has been shown, in animal models, to inhibit experimentally induced cortical spreading depression, the likely underlying mechanism for migraine aura, and cerebrovascular responses to trigeminal nerve stimulation. The aim was to study the potential for tonabersat as a migraine preventive. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre, parallel group study recruited patients with migraine with and without aura experiencing between two and six migraine attacks per month. After a 1-month baseline they received tonabersat 20 mg daily for 2 weeks and 40 mg daily for a further 10 weeks. The primary end-point was the change in mean number of migraine headache days between the third month and the baseline period in the intention-to-treat population comparing the placebo (n = 65) and tonabersat (n = 58) groups. At the primary end-point there was a 1.0-day (95% confidence interval −0.33, 2.39; P = 0.14) difference in reduction in migraine days between tonabersat and placebo. There were 10 secondary efficacy end-points, of which two were statistically significant. In month 3 of treatment, the responder rate, defined as a 50% reduction in migraine attacks, was 62% for tonabersat and 45% for placebo (P < 0.05), and the rescue medication use was reduced in the tonabersat group compared with placebo by 1.8 days (P = 0.02). Placebo responses were particularly high for all end-points. At least one treatment-emergent adverse event was reported in the tonabersat group in 61% of patients compared with 51% in the placebo group; none was worrisome. Placebo responses were unexpectedly high in this trial, complicating straightforward interpretation of the study results. The good tolerability and promising efficacy results support further exploration of higher doses of tonabersat in larger controlled trials.