The Behavioral Neuroscience Group investigates the dynamic interplay between genes, synaptic correlates and behavior. In particular, we study how genetic and epigenetic mechanisms affect behaviour through different sleep/wake states.
Sleep and cognitive processes are brain functions that require an efficient synaptic network. They are both established during development, stabilise in adults and may deteriorate with aging. Genes and molecular pathways in the Central Nervous System (CNS) play an important role in the diversity of these functions. The study of gene functions is a critical step to finding ways to prevent and/or develop treatments for many common cognitive disorders. The identification of animal models with CNS disorders represents the next frontier in the study of the functional genome. The post-genomic era has been characterised by the development of new approaches in the mouse to study gene function. One successful approach in this species is the phenotype-driven approach. With this in mind, several initiatives, world-wide, have focused over the last few years on a new "Science of Phenotyping".
In IIT we develop automated and efficient paradigms for measuring quantitative characteristics of the behavioral processes in mice, in particular timing behaviors. We examine the mechanisms underlying the foundation of temporal cognition (eg. expectation and decision making), the learning of goal-directed movements, the flexible use of actions and how they become habitual. This is of particular interest given the proposed dysfunction of timing mechanisms and habitual control under several pathological conditions, included Parkinson's disease. Using a combination of several physiological monitoring systems simultaneously, we are able to investigate the behavior of the mouse by integrating a diversity of techniques in each single research experiment.