April 2019- present: Tenured Senior Researcher, Neuroscience Area, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genova, Italy.
January 2013- present: Adjunct Faculty Investigator, Lieber Institute for Brain Development. Baltimore, MD, USA.
February 2014- March 2019: Senior Researcher, Neuroscience and Brain Technologies Department, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genova, Italy.
December 2011- February 2014: Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Padova, Italy.
September 2010- February 2014: Tenure Track-1, Team Leader, Neuroscience and Brain Technologies Department, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genova, Italy.
September 2005- August 2010: Post Doctoral Fellow, Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, Bethesda, USA. Supervisors: Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger and Dr. Jacqueline N. Crawley.January 2005- August 2005: “Assistant Associé”, University of Bordeaux 2, France, Supervisors: Prof. Antoine Tabarin and Dr. Angelo Contarino.
July 2004- December 2004: Researcher, University of Bordeaux, France. Supervisors: Prof. Antoine Tabarin and Dr. Angelo Contarino.
September 2003- July 2004: Researcher, INSERM Unit 588, “Laboratoire de Physiopathologie du Comportement”, Bordeaux, France. Supervisors: Dr. Pier Vincenzo Piazza and Dr. Angelo Contarino.
January 2002- March 2005: PhD Student in Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Padova, Italy. Supervisor: Dr. Angelo Contarino.
October 1996- November 2001: Pharmacy graduate studies (110/110 cum Laude), University of Padova, Italy.
February 2020- February 2023: Principal Investigator. Fondazione Telethon – project GGP19103, title: “Improving developmental trajectories in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome by oxytocin: focus on anti-inflammatory effects”.
November 2018- November 2021: Principal Investigator. Ricerca Finalizzata Giovani Ricercatori 2016 - Ministero Salute – project GR-2016-02362413, title: “Dysbindin-antipsychotics psychophamarcogenetics: a mouse-human translational study towards personalized healthcare in bipolar disorders”.
September 2018- September 2020: Supervisor and hosting lab. Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual Fellowships European to Celine Devroye. SOCIALBRAINCIRCUITS.
July 2018- August 2020: Principal Investigator. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma. Title: “Role of the frontocortical-parvalbumin system in higher-order cognitive functions and in the onset of cognitive deficits induced by schizophrenia-relevant mutations”.
October 2018: Principal Investigator. The MINDDS Action of the European COST Association (eCOST). Training school/hands-on workshop in “Convergence Neuroscience: bridging the gap between human patients and animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders”.
March 2016- December 2018: Principal Investigator. Compagnia di San Paolo grant n. 2015-0321. Title: “Utilizzo di variazioni genetiche in dysbindin-1 (dtnbp1) per lo sviluppo di trattamenti più efficaci e personalizzati per la schizofrenia”.
September 2015- March 2018: Principal Investigator. Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 2015 NARSAD Independent Investigator grant n. 23234; Title: “Use of genetic-driven dysbindin-1 (DTNBP1) variations for more effective and personalized treatments in First Episode of Psychosis”.
January 2013- January 2017: Principal Investigator. Roche Postdoc Fellowship Program; title: “D2L/S-dysbindin genetic interaction: towards early detection and personalized interventions for cognitive deficits and schizophrenia”.
January 2014- December 2015: in charge of a work package. 2013 NARSAD Young Investigator grant. Title: “Indicated prevention with long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in patients with 22q11 microdeletion syndrome genetically at high risk for psychosis: A randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled treatment trial”.
January 2013- May 2016: Principal Investigator. Ricerca Finalizzata Giovani Ricercatori 2010 - Ministero Salute – project GR-2010-2315883, title: “Schizophrenia pathogenetic mechanisms associated to dysbindin dysfunctions in fly and mouse models”.
September 2010- September 2014: Principal Investigator. Marie Curie FP7-Reintegration-Grants Call identifier: FP7-PEOPLE-2010-RG Grant n.268247 – SCHIZOGENES.August 2008-August 2010: Principal Investigator. NIMH Julius Axelrod Memorial Fellowship Training Award. Behavioral characterization of genetically modified mice for schizophrenia-associated susceptibility genes.
Overreaching Research Goals
- To implement more efficient and biologically-supported personalized medicine for cognitive and social alterations relevant to psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
- To develop a bidirectional mouse-human approach to accelerate the development of precision medicine strategies, with a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms involved.
- To investigate genetics, circuits, and cell-type specific mechanisms underlying higher-order cognitive and social processes.
- To understand the brain-immune system interplay in modulating cognitive and social functions, their developmental trajectories, and the impact of early treatments.
HIGHER-ORDER COGNITIVE PROCESSES
The cognitive control of behavior, including the selection and execution of goal-directed actions, is a highly heritable trait and a major determinant of our health and well-being. Alterations in cognitive control are shared common features of different psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder. Notably, cognitive deficits in these disorders are currently considered the main source of disability, having the most critical impact on the daily life of the patients and their relatives, on public health and long-term outcomes.
Our first scientific effort is to develop effective preclinical tools to study higher-order cognitive abilities with high translational validity from/to humans, while taking advantage of the outstanding advanced molecular and mechanistic tools available for mice. Importantly, we are interested in how cognitive functions change in males and females throughout development. The domains we are most focused on are: working memory, attentional control, executive functions and flexibility.
In social species, high-level cognitive functions are strongly interconnected with social abilities and social context. Social interactions depend on our ability to decipher expressions of emotions in others. This biological process, defined as “social cognition”, has profound implications in everyone’s life. Consistently, disturbances in this domain are early and distinctive features of many psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. However, despite the deleterious impact on the everyday life of these subjects, social cognitive impairments still miss an effective treatment.
We focus on addressing the cellular mechanisms underlying the ability to discriminate conspecifics based on positive or negative emotional states, and the correlation of these processes with other forms of social behaviors. We are particularly interested on the implication and interplay of different cell types (neurons and glial cells) and systems, such as neuropeptides (e.g. oxytocin, corticotropin releasing factor, somatostatin), and neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine, endocannabinoids).
Psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and bipolar disorder are characterized by a strong genetic component and a robust correlation with cognitive/social dysfunctions. From a therapeutic perspective, “diagnostics” boundaries in psychiatry might be refined by genetically informed analyses and/or overcome by a focus on basic dimensions of functioning. Notably, diagnostic- and empirically-based therapeutics often produce inefficient and highly variable responses, especially for cognitive and social deficits. Clinical guidelines strongly recommend adapting treatments to each individual case but, so far, no biomarkers exist to implement personalized treatments.
We aim to provide new knowledge on the mechanistic bases of the unpredictable variability of treatment efficacy in cognitive and social processes, by considering the impact of genetic variations, critical developmental periods and sex differences. In particular, we test specific hypotheses regarding functional common genetic variants, epistatic interactions or specific copy number variants syndromes, with high penetrance in the development of schizophrenia, autism and ADHD (e.g. 22q11.2, 16p11.2).
Increasing evidence is strengthening the hypothesis that immune vulnerability and altered inflammatory responses might play a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia. In particular, early alterations in immune activity have been linked with aberrant developmental trajectories in cognitive and social processes.
We aim to investigate the immune-brain communication as the base of alterations in cognitive and social processes, as well as treatment responses. In particular, we study copy number variants microdeletion syndromes with robust penetrance in the development of schizophrenia, autism and ADHD (e.g. 22q11.2, 16p11.2), as a unique opportunity to address the interplay between genetic- and immune-vulnerability in the development of cognitive and social alterations.
October 2018: Scientific Director and Organizer of the Training school/hands-on workshop in “Convergence Neuroscience: bridging the gap between human patients and animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders”. Genova, Italy.
December 2017: travel award, ACNP 56th Annual Meeting, USA.
July 2017: Scientific Director and Organizer of the International Summer School of Neuroscience. Noto, Italy.
March 2015: Spring 2015 JOVE/Med Associates Competition.
April 2014: the Marie Curie Alumni Association Travel Grant.
November 2012: Winter Conference on Brain Research Travel Fellowship Award.
May 2009: award as a Preceptor in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Student Internship Program.
August 2008: two-year NIMH Julius Axelrod Memorial Fellowship Training Award.
May 2008: award as a Preceptor in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Student Internship Program.
May 2007: mentor to prize winner of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Neuroscience Research Prize; Boston, annual meeting of the AAN.
September 2005- August 2010: fellowship, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, USA.
January 2002- December 2004: doctoral fellowship, pharmacology program, University of Padova, Italy.
October 2003: scholarship from the Italian Society of Pharmacology.