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Enrica Petrini


Research Line

Synaptic Plasticity of Inhibitory Networks


IIT Central Research Labs Genova


Neuroscience and Brain Technologies Deptvia Morego 30
+39 010 2896 726
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Enrica Maria Petrini graduated in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Bologna in 2000 studying gas-1 and ceramidase in cell cycle regulation. In 2000 she underwent a postdegree training on the yeast two hybrid system to identify interactors of the human homologue of B99 at Laboratorio Nazionale C.I.B. (Consorzio Interuniversitario Biotecnologie) in Trieste under the supervision of Prof. Schneider. From 2001 to 2004 she accomplished her PhD studies at the Department of Biophisics - Neurobiology at SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies) under the supervision of Prof. Cherubini studying the influence of GABAA receptor clustering on GABAergic synaptic and tonic inhibition in cultured hippocampal neurons. During the same period she also focused on the biophysics of GABAAR gating and on presynaptic sources of quantal size variability at GABAergic synapses. In 2004 she moved to France for a post-doctoral training in fluorescence imaging and single particle tracking in Prof. Choquet’s lab in Bordeaux to study the influence of AMPAR endocytosis on receptor surface mobility. In 2006 Dr. Petrini obtained a Marie Curie fellowship (IEF) to investigate the contribution of AMPA receptorlateral diffusion and receptor recycling during long term potentiation at glutamatergic synapses. Currently she holds a Research Scientist position at Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, in Dr. Barberis’ lab, studying the role of receptor dynamics in the regulation of synaptic function and in the computational properties of the neuron.

Dr. Petrini has a solid background in neurophysiology with a keen interest on the nano-scaled organization and dynamics of synaptic proteins, on membrane trafficking and on the impact of receptor dynamics on synaptic physiology. Over the years she has combined her wide technical experience in leading-edge imaging techniques (e.g. Single Particle Tracking, high-resolution live cell imaging, multicolor fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, confocal and multiphoton microscopy), electrophysiology, immunocyto/histochemistry, cellular and molecular biology for a high resolution investigation of the molecular organization and function of the synapse.


 Molecular determinants of inhibitory synaptic plasticity

This project aims at understanding the molecular modifications responsible for potentiation at GABAergic synapses (iLTP) and the contribution of GABAAR lateral mobility in neuronal computation. With multidisciplinary approaches combining electrophysiology, single particle tracking, super resolution microscopy, biochemistry and immunochemistry we are focusing on:

  • The modulation of surface GABAAR lateral diffusion for the rapid adjustment of synaptic receptor number during iLTP
  • The reorganization of the postsysnaptic scaffold for iLTP expression
  • Post-translational modifications responsible for iLTP


Inhibitory synaptic plasticity in the NL3-R451C mouse model of autism spectrum disorders

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been associated to genetic alterations of proteins that are crucial for the synaptic function such as Neuroligin 3 (NL3). This projects focuses on the R451C mutation on NL3 -found in autistic siblings- as a molecular determinant of ASD. We aim at assessing how this mutation affects the structure and function of inhibitory synapses and alters inhibitory synaptic plasticity in a characterized mouse model of ASD, the NL3R451C knock-in (KI).


Influence of receptor endocytosis on inhibitory synaptic function through the modulation of GABAA receptors availability and stabilization at GABAergic synapses

The availability of neurotransmitter receptors at synapses is a key determinant of synaptic transmission known to depend on receptor intracellular trafficking and on surface receptor lateral mobility. In this context the location and dynamics of GABAA receptor exocytosis and endocytosis can significantly shape synaptic inhibition. This project explores how posttranslational modifications responsible for the regulation of GABAA receptor internalization influence inhibitory synaptic responses by tuning receptor surface dynamics and receptor-scaffold interactions. Additionally, we investigate how those processes are scaled when promoted GABAA receptor exocytosis sustains the expression of inhibitory long-term potentiation (iLTP) of inhibitory synapses.


Selected Publications


OrlandoM*, Ravasenga T*,Petrini EM*, Falqui A, Marotta R, Barberis A.
Correlating fluorescence and high-resolution scanning electron microscopy (HRSEM) for the study of GABAA receptor clustering induced by inhibitory synaptic plasticity
Scientific Reports (2017); doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-14210-5.
* equal contribution
de Luca E*, Ravasenga T*, Petrini EM*, Polenghi A, Nieus T, Guazzi S, Barberis A.
Intersynaptic lateral diffusion of GABAA receptors shapes inhibitory synaptic currents
Neuron (2017); doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.06.022.
* equal contribution
Pennacchietti F, Vascon S, Nieus T, Rosillo C, Das S, Tyagarajan SK, Diaspro A, Del Bue A, Petrini EM, Barberis A, Cella Zanacchi F.
Nanoscale molecular reorganization of the inhibitory postsynaptic density is a determinant of GABAergic synaptic potentiation
Journal of Neuroscience (2017); doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0514-16.2016
Petrini E.M., and Barberis A.
Diffusion dynamics of synaptic molecules during inhibitory postsynaptic plasticity. 
Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience (2014);  doi: 10.3389/fncel.2014.00300

Petrini E.M.
, Ravasenga T., Hausrat T., Iurilli G., Olcese U., Racine V., Sibarita J.B., Jacob T.C., Moss S., Benfenati F., Medini P., Kneussel M., and Barberis A.
Synaptic recruitment of gephyrin regulates surface GABAA receptors dynamics for the expression of inhibitory LTP.
Nature Communications (2014); June 4, 3921 (5) doi:10.1038/ncomms4921

Petrini E.M., Nieus T., Ravasenga T., Succol F., Guazzi S., Benfenati F., Barberis A.
Influence of GABAAR Monoliganded States on GABAergic Responses.
Journal of Neuroscience (2011) 31(5):1752–1761

Petrini E.M., Lu J.; Cognet L., Lounis B., Ehlers M.D., Choquet D.
Endocytic Trafficking and Recycling Maintain a Pool of Mobile Surface AMPA Receptors Required for Synaptic Potentiation. 
Neuron (2009) 63, 92–105

Petrini E.M., Marchionni I., Zacchi P., W. Sieghart, Cherubini E.
Clustering of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors modulates tonic inhibition in cultured hippocampal neurons. 
Journal of Biological Chemistry(2004); 279(44):45833-43

Petrini E.M., Zacchi P., Barberis A., Morzyzmas J.W., Cherubini E.
Declusterization of GABAAR affects the kinetic properties of GABAergic currents in cultured hippocampal neurons. 
Journal of Biological Chemistry(2003); 278(18):16271-16279


2004          Travel Fellowship Award, FENS Forum, Lisboa, Portugal

2006          Marie Curie Fellowship (FP6), Intra European Fellowship

2008          Travel Fellowship Award, MN2008 Meeting, Milan, Italy

2008          Molecular Mechanisms in Neuroscience, Milan, Italy, Best Poster


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.