Dr. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt obtained his Bachellor degree in Biology at the University of the Andes in Merida. Later on he got a MSc degree on Biochemistry and Cellular Biology, in the context of an international research project, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Afterwards, he earned a PhD degree and a Post Doc in Neurobiology at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa while working with Lamberto Maffei. He then moved to the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), as a Post Doc, in Rovereto. At the moment, he is a Research Scientist at the IIT in Genova working with Fabio Benfenati. In addition to his research activities at the IIT, he was recently appointed as Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine and Pharmacy, at the University of Genova. He also lately obtained the “Abilitazione Scientifica” to work as Associate Professor at the University. His research interests centre on (i) neuronal interfaces designed to substitute damaged tissues in the nervous system and (ii) experience-dependent mechanisms of neuronal plasticity that underlie sensory perception and behaviour. Dr. Maya-Vetencourt is author of 4 book chapters, 1 patent, 26 publications in peer-reviewed journals, including: Science, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Materials, Nature Communications, Journal of Physiology. He has delivered more than 20 scientific presentations at international meetings abroad. His academic record includes over 1325 citations with an “h-index” of 12 (google scholar). He is member of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (SINS), the American Society of Neuroscience (SfN), and the Italian Society of Physiology (SIF). He works as an associate review editor for “Frontiers in Neurogenomics” and “Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience”. In the year 2017, he was awarded two scientific recognitions as "Young Investigator in Physiology": one by the Italian Society of Physiology (SIF) in Pavia and the other by the European Society of Physiology (FEPS) in Vienna.
J.F. Maya-Vetencourt is currently leading the following research projects:
Project 1: Artificial Retina in the RCS retinal degeneration rat model: functional and behavioral recovery of vision in Retinitis pigmentosa
Project 2: Development of an artificial retinal prosthesis in a swine model of blindness: towards the human phase-1 experimentation
Project 3: Role of the transcription factor REST on brain plasticity in health and disease as assessed by optogenetics
Summary of Research Projects
Utilization of neuronal interfaces in retinal pathologies
Recently, in the department of Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology led by Prof. Benfenati at the IIT, Dr Maya-Vetencourt started to work on an innovative line of research that centres on the development and use of optoelectronic interfaces as a therapeutic approach to retinal pathologies. He had the opportunity to build an in vivo electrophysiology laboratory to study the application of the aforementioned photovoltaic interfaces as neuronal prosthesis in retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa in rodents and pigs. The purpose of the artificial retina project is to promote the development of new therapeutic strategies using animal models of genetic illnesses of the human retina. This translational line of research is clinically relevant in retinal diseases with an incidence of 1 every 4000 people worldwide for which there is currently no medical treatment.
Mechanisms of neuronal plasticity in the visual system
During the course of his doctoral program, at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Dr. Maya-Vetencourt, within the group guided by Prof. Maffei, was among the first to pioneer different experimental approaches aimed at reactivating plasticity in the adult visual system and promoting the recovery of visual functions in adult amblyopic animals. In addition, they studied epigenetic mechanisms that regulate the susceptibility of chromatin to transcription, which is at the basis of the restoration of plasticity in the adult nervous system. The application of these findings is of relevance for the treatment of human amblyopia and currently under clinical study. Thanks to the financial support from the Compagnia di Sao Paulo (180.000 euros), Dr. Maya-Vetencourt is currently investigating the role of the transcription factor REST in processes of cortical plasticity. This project involves the use of optogenetics and electrophysiology techniques in vivo.
Research Grants as Principal Investigator:
Fondazione San Paolo. 180.000 €. 2016-2018.
“Modulation of adult visual cortical plasticity via optogenetic control of gene expression”
- PEER-REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS:
1. Mattia Bramini, Fabrizia Cesca, Elisabetta Colombo, Mattia Lorenzo Di Francesco, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Giulio Alberini, Luca Maragliano, Fabio Benfenati. 2017. Interfacing graphene-based materials with neural cells (in preparation)
2. Stéphane Molotchnikoff, Vishal Bharmauria, Nayan Chanauria, Lyes Bachatene, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2017. The function of connectomes in encoding sensory stimuli (in preparation)
3. Cyril Eleftheriou, Fabrizia Cesca, Fabio Benfenati, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2017. Dissecting the role of the transcription factor REST/NRSF on brain plasticity (in preparation)
4. Francesca Barone, Eleonora Nannoni, Alberto Elmi, Domenico Ventrella, Marika Vitali, Giovanna Martelli, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Fabio Benfenati, Maria Laura Bacci. 2017. Behavioral vision assessment in the biomedical pig. Laboratory Animals (submitted)
5. Cyril Eleftheriou, Fabrizia Cesca, Luca Maragliano, Fabio Benfenati, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author). 2017. Optogenetic modulation of intracellular signalling and transcription: focus on neuronal plasticity. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience 11: 1-16.
6. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Diego Ghezzi, Maria Rosa Antognazza, Maurizio Mete, Paul Feyen, Andrea Desii, Ambra Buschiazzo, Mattia Di Paolo, Stefano Di Marco, Flavia Ticconi, Laura Emionite, Dmytro Shmal, Cecilia Marini, Elisabetta Colombo, Ilaria Donelli, Giuliano Freddi, Silvia Bisti, Gianmario Sambuceti, Grazia Pertile, Guglielmo Lanzani, Fabio Benfenati. 2017. A fully organic retinal prosthesis restores vision in a rat model of degenerative blindness. Nature Materials 16(6): 681-689.
7. Maria Rosa Antognazza, Mattia Di Paolo, Diego Ghezzi, Maurizio Mete, Stefano Di Marco, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Rita Maccarone, Andrea Desii, Fabio Di Fonzo, Mattia Bramini, Angela Russo, Lucia Laudato, Ilaria Donelli, Michele Cilli, Giuliano Freddi, Grazia Pertile, Guglielmo Lanzani, Silvia Bisti, Fabio Benfenati . 2016. Characterization of a polymer-based, fully organic prosthesis for implantation into the subretinal space of the rat. Advanced Healthcare Materials 5(17): 2271-2282.
8. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Nicola Carucci, Simona Capsoni, Antonino Cattaneo. 2014. Amyloid plaque-independent deficit of visual cortical plasticity by Ab-aggregation in the 5XFAD transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 42(1): 103–107
9. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) and Tommaso Pizzorusso. 2013. Molecular mechanisms at the basis of plasticity in the developing visual cortex: epigenetic processes and gene programs. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience 7: 75–83
10. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author). 2013. Activity dependent expression of NPAS4 and the regulation of gene programs underlying plasticity in the central nervous system. Neural Plasticity 2013: 683909
11. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) & Matteo Caleo. 2013. Experience-dependent plasticity in the central nervous system. In Neurosciences. Eds: P.M. Lledo and G. Galizia. Springer Verlag Press, Amsterdam.
12. Ettore Tiraboschi, Ramon Guirado, Dario Greco, Petri Auvinen, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Lamberto Maffei, Eero Castren. 2013. Gene expression patterns underlying the reinstatement of plasticity in the adult visual system. Neural Plasticity 2013: 605079
13. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Ettore Tiraboschi, Dario Greco, Laura Restani, Chiara Cerri, Petri Auvinen, Lamberto Maffei, Eero Castren. 2012. Experience-dependent NPAS4 expression regulates plasticity in adult visual cortex. Journal of Physiology 590(19): 4777-4787
14. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) and Nicola Origlia. 2012. Visual cortex plasticity: a complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences. Neural Plasticity 2012: 631965
15. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Laura Baroncelli, Alessandro Viegi, Ettore Tiraboschi, Eero Castren, Antonino Cattaneo, Lamberto Maffei. 2012. IGF-1 restores visual cortex plasticity in adult life by reducing local GABA levels. Neural Plasticity 2012: 250421
16. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2012. Plasticity of visual cortical circuitries in adulthood. In Visual Cortex: Anatomy, Functions and Injuries. Eds: J.M. Harris and J. Scott. Nova Science Publishers, New York.
17. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt & Matteo Caleo, 2012. Insights into visual cortex plasticity: interaction of genes and sensory experience. In Visual Cortex. Eds: S. Molotchnikoff. InTech Publishers, New York.
18. Maria Spolidoro, Laura Baroncelli, Elena Putignano, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Alessandro Viegi, Lamberto Maffei. 2011. Food restriction enhances visual cortex plasticity in adulthood. Nature Communications 2: 320
19. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Ettore Tiraboschi, Maria Spolidoro, Eero Castren, Lamberto Maffei. 2011. Serotonin triggers a transient epigenetic mechanism that reinstates adult visual cortex plasticity in rats. European Journal of Neuroscience 33(1): 49-57
20. Eero Castren & José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2011. Neurotrophins as regulators of visual cortical plasticity. In Cerebral Plasticity. Eds: L.M. Chalupa, N. Berardi, M. Caleo, L. Galli-Resta, T. Pizzorusso. MIT Press, Cambridge.
21. Laura Baroncelli, Alessandro Sale, Alessandro Viegi, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Roberto De Pasquale, Sara Baldini, Lamberto Maffei. 2010. Experience-dependent reactivation of ocular dominance plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Experimental Neurology 226(1): 100-109
22. Flavia Antonucci, Chiara Cerri, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Matteo Caleo. 2010. Acute neuroprotection by the synaptic blocker botulinum neurotoxin e (BoNT-E) in a rat model of focal cerebral ischaemia. Neuroscience 169: 395-401
23. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Matteo Caleo, Lamberto Maffei. 2009. Frontiers of neuronal plasticity: can we treat amblyopia in adulthood? Ophthalmology International Review 4: 45-50
24. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Alessandro Sale, Alessandro Viegi, Laura Baroncelli, Roberto De Pasquale, Olivia O’Leary, Eero Castrén, Lamberto Maffei. 2008. The antidepressant fluoxetine restores plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Science 320(5874): 385-388
25. Alessandro Sale, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (1st coauthor), Paolo Medini, Maria Cristina Cenni, Laura Baroncelli, Roberto De Pasquale, Lamberto Maffei. 2007. Environmental enrichment in adulthood promotes amblyopia recovery through a reduction of intracortical inhibition. Nature Neuroscience 10(6): 679-681
26. Zamora E., Valiente E., Aldana E., Lizano E., José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2005. Estudio ontogénico de la variación de la simetría geométrica en las córneas de los omatidios del ojo compuesto de Rhodnius prolixus utilizando Microscopía Electrónica de barrido (MEB). Salud & Desarrollo Social 1: 1-7
27. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Valiente E., Zamora E., O'Callaghan J. 2004. Bioformation of polygons in the chorion of Periplaneta americana (Linnaeus, 1758) eggs. Rev. Ecol. Lat. Am. 11(2): 1-6
28. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Valiente E, O’Callaghan J. 2002. Study of ultrastructural details of the ootheca of Periplaneta americana (Dyctioptera:Blattidae)with scanning electron microscopy. Interciencia 27(5): 243-246
29. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Valiente E., O’Callaghan J. 2000. Ultrastructural study of the crest in the ootheca of Periplaneta americana using a Scanning Electron Microscope. Rev. Ecol. Lat. Am. 7 (1-2): 11-16
1. Eero Castrén, Lamberto Maffei, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. A method of treating amblyopia. 2008. International publication number: WO 2009/004114 A1. Finland. Hermo Pharma Ltd (VAT FI21986657).
- INVITED TALKS AND SEMINARS
• Neuroscience Institute, CNR. Pisa, Italy. June 2017. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis.
• Conference on Materials Science and Technology. Sicily, Italy. December, 2016. A polymer-based interface modulates neuronal activity and restores light-sensitivity in blind rats.
• 4th Congress on Neurotechnology, Electronics & Informatics. Porto, Portugal. November, 2016. A fully organic retinal prosthesis restores vision in a rat model of degenerative blindness.
• Erice International School of Bioelectromagnetics. Sicily, Italy. April, 2016. Optogenetics: a new tool to interrogate and modulate neural circuitries in the brain.
• OLIMPIA Workshop. Milan, Italy. April, 2016. Organic artificial retina: latest results and future perspectives.
• XVI International Congress. SINS. Cagliari, Italy. October, 2015. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis.
• 66th International Congress. SIF. Genoa, Italy. September 2015. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis.
• Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), Rovereto, Italy. November 2012. Optogenetics-fMRI: optogenetic and functional mapping of neural substrates of plasticity in the nervous system.
• Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. June 2012. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a complex interplay between genes and environmental experience.
• Istituto Farmacologia Traslazionale, CNR. Cagliari, Italy. September 2011. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a dialogue between genes and environment.
• Collège de France. Paris, France. October 2010. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a dialogue between genes and environment.
• Neuroscience Meeting. Helsinki, Finland. June 2010. Neurotrophic Factors in Health and Disease. University of Helsinki.
• Institute Pasteur. Paris, France. November 2009. Frontiers of Neuronal Plasticity. Epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression: temporal kinetics.
• Neuroscience Meeting. Pisa, Italy. October 2008. Cerebral Plasticity: New Perspectives. Scuola Normale Superiore.
- INTERNATIONAL CONGRESSES AND MEETINGS
• Congress of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine. Imaging of basal metabolic activity of primary visual cortex in mice. Vienna, Austria. October 2017.
• 3rd WP5 Biomedical Technologies Meeting. Improvement of Photosensitive Neural Interfaces with Graphene for Novel Retinal Prosthesis Design. Barcelona, Spain. March 2017.
• Graphene Flagship Meeting. WP4-WP5 Core-1. Photosensitive Neuronal Interfaces for Biomedical Applications. Madrid, Spain. October 2016.
• European Neuroscience Congress (FENS). Smart materials for Biomedical Applications. Copehagen, Denmark. July 2016.
• FELASA Congress. Objective and subjective vision assessment in iodoacetic acid model of swine retinal degeneration. Brussels, Belgium. June 2016.
• International workshop. Engrams and Memory Traces. European Brain Research Institute (EBRI). Accademia dei Lincei. Rome, Italy. April 2014.
• Optogenetics Worshop. Optogenetic Innovation Laboratory of Prof. Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University. Stanford, USA. February 2014.
• Optogenetics and Pharmacogenetics in Neuronal Function and Dysfunction. 7th International Brain Research Conference. New Orleans, USA. October 2012.
• Society for Neuroscience 42nd Annual Meeting. New Orleans, USA. October 2012.
• IBRO Summer School. Development and Plasticity of Cortical Representation. Bertinoro. Bologna, Italy. June 2011.
• Society for Neuroscience SfN Meeting. Gene expression analysis of fluoxetine-induced plasticity in the adult visual cortex. San Diego. California, USA. Nov 2010.
• European Neuroscience Meeting. Organization and plasticity of the visual cortex. Scuola Normale Superiore. Pisa, Italy. May 2009.
• European Neuroscience Congress (FENS). Chronic fluoxetine administration restores plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Geneve, Switzerland. July 2008.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. Advances Techniques in Molecular Neuroscience. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. New York, USA. June 2008
• Gordon Research Conference. Inhibition in the CNS. Fluoxetine-induced plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Colby College. Boston, USA. July 2007.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. V Incontro dell’istituto di Neuroscienze del CNR. Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR). Cagliari, Italy. June 2007.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. The GABAergic inhibition. Environmental enrichment in adulthood promotes amblyopia recovery through a reduction of intracortical inhibition.
Cold SpringHarbor Laboratory. New York, USA. November 2006.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. Neuroplasticity, Neurotrophic Factors and Mood Disorders. Consiglio Nazionale della Ricerca (CNR). Pisa, Italy. April 2005.
• Young Investigator Award. 2017. Società Italiana di Fisiologia (SIF). Pavia, Italia.
• Raising Star Award. 2017. Federation of European Physiological Societies (FEPS). Vienna, Austria.
• Award for Major Scientific Advances in Biology. 2008. Faculty of 1000 Biology. Maya-Vetencourt et al. Science 320(5874): 385-388.