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Lorenzo Cingolani Write a Message



NSYN@Unige Genova


Largo Rosanna Benzi, 10, CBA Torre D1
+39 010 5558 382


Lorenzo Cingolani graduated in Molecular Biology at the University of Pisa. For his PhD, he joined the department of Prof. Walter Stuehmer at the Max-Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Goettingen, where he investigated the developmental regulation of calcium-activated potassium channels in the rodent brain. For these studies, he received a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2002. As postdoctoral fellow, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Yukiko Goda  at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology (University College London), where he studied the relationship between synaptic structure and function, uncovering the role of cell adhesion molecules in homeostatic synaptic plasticity. Since 2012, he is an independent investigator at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).


Molecular mechanisms of synapse specificity and function in the central nervous system


Our goal is to identify the key molecular mechanisms controlling assembly and remodeling of synaptic connections in the mammalian brain. Knowledge of the general principles governing development and function of neuronal connections is fundamental for the understanding of neurological and psychiatric disorders.


Quite possibly the most complex organ in our body, the brain determines how we behave and think, and who we are. Activity-dependent changes in the structure and function of the brain make it possible to form new memories and learn new skills. Alterations in its connectivity and excitability can lead to diseases such as epilepsy and autism, which are amongst the most common and disabling mental disorders.


Brain function: focus on cell adhesion molecules and calcium channels

FigWebSiteTextRedBrain function critically depends on how neurons interact and communicate with each others at specialized contact sites, the synapses. Our aim is to identify the key molecular mechanisms governing formation, specialization and remodeling of synaptic connections in the central nervous system. Synapses can be viewed as learning and memory storage devices. They are highly ‘plastic’, changing the way they transmit information between neurons in response to specific patterns of neuronal activity. At the same time, they are also highly ‘tenacious’, with many synapses retaining their structural and functional properties over many years. Our overarching interest is in the questions of how synapses find the right balance between plasticity and stability, and how alterations in this delicate equilibrium contribute to neurological disorders.

We address these questions at a cellular and molecular level.

First, we investigate how a class of synaptic cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), the integrins, contribute to synaptic specificity and to coordinating pre- and postsynaptic activity under physiological and pathological conditions. During synapse formation, CAMs are critically involved in determining synapse specificity by mediating the initial target recognition between pre- and post-synaptic neurons. In mature synapses, they regulate structural and functional synaptic plasticity by signaling between the two sides of the synapse.

Second, we study how alternative splicing of pre-mRNAs makes it possible to produce different versions of synaptic proteins to suit diverse types of synapses. Alternative splicing is a process during the maturation of mRNAs that enables a single gene to produce multiple variants of a protein; it is especially prominent in the mammalian brain, where it is thought to expand proteome diversity. For example, alternative splicing of calcium channels can potentially generate thousands of different versions of these synaptic proteins. However, the impact of this molecular diversity on brain function, especially on synaptic transmission, starts only now to be uncovered.


Current projects

Synaptic functions of integrin-mediated cell adhesion in physiological conditions and autism-related abnormalities in mice, project supported by the European Research Council (SynAMPAdhesion, FP7-PEOPLE-2012-CIG) and the Italian Institute of Technology.

Autism has a complex genetic architecture, with up to hundreds of genes involved in its etiology. A major question in the neurobiology of autism is how alterations in these many genes translate into similar behavioral phenotypes. The goal of this project is to provide mechanistic insights on how the interplay between cell adhesion molecules (integrins) and glutamate receptors alters key neuronal circuits in autism. To this end, we employ bioinformatics, brain slice electrophysiology coupled with optogenetics and behavioral analysis in mice.


Elucidation of causality between αV integrin deficiency and epilepsy, project part of the European Training Network on Extracellular Matrix in Epileptogenesis (ECMED, H2020-MSCA-ITN-2014).

Extracellular matrix proteins and their receptors are readily accessible to pharmacological and molecular interventions, and they play a fundamental role in neural development and network excitability, crucial events in the pathogenesis of epilepsy. This project aims to understanding the molecular mechanisms of epileptogenesis mediated by activity-dependent remodeling of extracellular matrix receptors, and to develop treatments for 'opening a window' of persistent structural normalization of neural circuitries in epileptogenesis, as well as in established epilepsy. To this end, we employ electrophysiological recordings from brain slices and primary neuronal cultures, Ca2+ imaging and viral-mediated rescue strategies.


Activity-dependent alternative splicing of presynaptic calcium channels, project supported by the Italian Institute of Technology

The majority of neuronal genes are subject to alternative splicing, which is thought to increase proteome complexity and optimize protein function to specific cellular tasks. In support of a dedicated function of individual splice variants, some mutations that cause brain diseases impair only one of the splice isoforms of a neuronal gene. By combining optogenetic stimulation with isoform-specific knock-down, along with imaging of presynaptic calcium and vesicle turnover, we have recently demonstrated that alternative splicing of P/Q-type calcium channels is regulated in an activity-dependent manner to control vesicle release and presynaptic plasticity at hippocampal synapses.  Paper here.


Genome-editing approaches for personalized medicine in inherited diseases, project supported by the Compagnia San Paolo and the Italian Institute of Technology.

This project aims to developing novel strategies for personalized medicine in inherited brain diseases with a complex and multifactorial genetic architecture. To this end, we employ CRISPR/Cas9-based genome-editing technology to correct the genetic defects at the base of inherited forms of autism.


Lab members:

Dr. Agnes Thalhammer, Senior postdoctoral fellow;

Dr. Fanny Jaudon, Postdoctoral fellow;

Eduardo Morais, Ph.D. student;

Carmela Vitale, Ph.D. student;

Jessica Muia, undergraduate student



Selected Publications


Thalhammer, A., Jaudon, F., and Cingolani, L.A. Combining optogenetics with artificial microRNA to characterize the effects of gene knockdown on presynaptic function within intact neuronal circuits. J Vis Exp. Invited manuscript.

Thalhammer, A., Contestabile, A., Ermolyuk, Y.S., Ng, T., Volynski, K.E., Soong, T.W., Goda, Y., and Cingolani, L.A. (2017). Alternative Splicing of P/Q-Type Ca2+ Channels Shapes Presynaptic Plasticity. Cell Rep 20, 333-343.   Full text

Kerrisk, M.E., Cingolani, L.A., and Koleske, A.J. (2014). ECM receptors in neuronal structure, synaptic plasticity, and behavior. Prog Brain Res 214, 101-131.  Full text

Korotchenko, S., Cingolani, L.A., Kuznetsova, T., Bologna, L.L., Chiappalone, M., and Dityatev, A. (2014). Modulation of network activity and induction of homeostatic synaptic plasticity by enzymatic removal of heparan sulfates. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 369.   Full text

Ronzitti, G., Bucci, G., Emanuele, M., Leo, D., Sotnikova, T.D., Mus, L.V., Soubrane, C.H., Dallas, M.L., Thalhammer, A., Cingolani, L.A., Mochida, S., Gainetdinov, R. R., Stephens, G. J., and Chieregatti, E. (2014). Exogenous alpha-Synuclein Decreases Raft Partitioning of Cav2.2 Channels Inducing Dopamine Release. J Neurosci 34, 10603-10615.   Abstract

Gymnopoulos, M., Cingolani, L.A., Pedarzani, P., and Stocker, M. (2014). Developmental mapping of small-conductance calcium-activated potassium channel expression in the rat nervous system. J Comp Neurol 522, 1072-1101.   Abstract

Thalhammer, A., and Cingolani, L.A. (2014). Cell adhesion and homeostatic synaptic plasticity. Neuropharmacology 78, 23-30.   Abstract

McGeachie, A. B., Skrzypiec, A. E., Cingolani, L.A., Letellier, M., Pawlak, R. and Goda, Y. (2012) β3 integrin is dispensable for conditioned fear and Hebbian forms of plasticity in the hippocampus. Eur J Neurosci 36, 2461-2469.   Abstract

Bassani, S. and Cingolani, L.A. (2012) Tetraspanins: interactions and interplay with integrins. Int J Biochem Cell Biol 44, 703-708.   Abstract

Bassani, S., Cingolani, L.A., Valnegri, P., Folci A., Zapata, J., Gianfelice, A., Sala, C., Goda, Y., and Passafaro., M. (2012) TSPAN7, a protein involved in X-linked intellectual disability, promotes development of excitatory synapses and regulates AMPAR trafficking through interaction with PICK1. Neuron 73, 1143-1158.   Full text

Pozo, K., Cingolani, L.A., Bassani, S., Laurent, F., Passafaro, M. and Goda, Y. (2012) β3 integrin interacts directly with GluA2 AMPA receptor subunit and regulates AMPA receptor expression in hippocampal neurons. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109, 1323-1328.   Full text

McGeachie, A. B., Cingolani, L.A., and Goda, Y. (2011). A stabilizing influence: Integrins in regulation of synaptic plasticity. Neurosci Res 70, 24-29.   Full text

Thalhammer, A., Edgington, R. J., Cingolani, L.A., Schoepfer, R., and Jackman, R. B. (2010). The use of nanodiamond monolayer coatings to promote the formation of functional neuronal networks. Biomaterials 31, 2097-2104.   Abstract

Cingolani, L.A. and Goda, Y. (2009). Differential involvement of β3 integrin in pre- and postsynaptic forms of adaptation to chronic activity deprivation. Neuron Glia Biol 4, 179-187.   Abstract

Cingolani, L.A.* (2008). In vivo glutamate receptor dynamics: lessons from the fly neuromuscular junction. Cell Science 5, 25-33.

Cingolani, L.A., Thalhammer, A., Yu, L. M., Catalano, M., Ramos, T., Colicos, M. A., and Goda, Y. (2008). Activity-Dependent Regulation of Synaptic AMPA Receptor Composition and Abundance by β3 Integrins. Neuron 58, 749-762.   Full text
Previewed in Aizenman, C. D., and Pratt, K. G. (2008). There is more than one way to scale a synapse. Neuron 58, 651-653.   Full text

Cingolani, L.A. and Goda, Y. (2008). Actin in action: the interplay between the actin cytoskeleton and synaptic efficacy. Nat Rev Neurosci 9, 344-356.   Abstract

Okuda, T., Yu, L. M., Cingolani, L.A., Kemler, R., and Goda, Y. (2007). β-Catenin regulates excitatory postsynaptic strength at hippocampal synapses. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104, 13479-13484.   Full text

Cingolani, L.A., Gymnopoulos, M., Boccaccio, A., Stocker, M., and Pedarzani, P. (2002). Developmental regulation of small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel expression and function in rat Purkinje neurons. J Neurosci 22, 4456-4467.   Full text 

Pedarzani, P., Mosbacher, J., Rivard, A., Cingolani, L.A., Oliver, D., Stocker, M., Adelman, J. P., and Fakler, B. (2001). Control of electrical activity in central neurons by modulating the gating of small conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels. J Biol Chem 276, 9762-9769. Full text



The lab is supported by the European Research Council (SynAMPAdhesion, FP7-PEOPLE-2012-CIG; ECMED, H2020-MSCA-ITN-2014), the Compagnia San Paolo and the Italian Institute of Technology.


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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.