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Luciano Fadiga Write a Message

Senior Researcher - Center Coordinator
Center Director


CTNSC@UniFe Ferrara


+39 0532 455338


Born in 1961.

M.D., University of Bologna, Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Parma.

Full Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Ferrara, Center Coordinator IIT@UNIFE

He has a long experience in electrophysiology and neurophysiology in monkeys (single neurons recordings) and humans (transcranial magnetic stimulation, study of spinal excitability, brain imaging, recording of single neurons in awake neurosurgery patients).


Among his contributions:

(1) The description of the functional properties of the monkey ventral premotor cortex where, together with his Parma colleagues, he discovered a class of neurons that respond both when the monkey performs actions and when it observes similar actions made by other individuals (mirror neurons). It has been suggested that these neurons unify perception and action and may contribute to others’ action understanding (Experimental Brian Research, 1992; Brain, 1996; Cognitive Brain Research, 1996).

(2) The first demonstration that a mirror system exists also in humans. He achieved this result by applying transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the hand motor cortex of human subjects while they were observing others’ actions. He demonstrated that the amplitude of observer’s hand muscle potentials, as evoked by TMS, was specifically and significantly modulated by the observed actions (Journal of Neurophysiology 1995).

(3) The demonstration that a similar motor resonance is activated during speech listening and involves tongue-related motor centres (European Journal of Neuroscience, 2002). He recently further demonstrates that this motor activation evoked by speech listening is functional to speech perception. This result shows for the first time a causal relationship between action representation and perception (Current Biology, 2009).

(4) The first demonstration that, in humans, the frontal area for speech production (Broca’s area) is almost constantly activated by action observation (by several brain imaging experiments carried out in collaboration with San Raffaele Hospital of Milan, USC and UCLA of Los Angeles, HUT of Helsinki, Juelich Brain Imaging Center, Royal Holloway University of London) (Experimental Brain Research 1996).

(5) The very recent demonstration that Broca’s area-activation reflects a primary role played by this area in pragmatically understanding actions of others (Brain, 2009). This finding opens new landscapes on the evolution of the human language.

(6) The study of peripersonal space representation in monkey premotor cortex (Journal of Neurophysiology, 1996; Science, 1997). According to these findings, premotor area F4 contains polimodal neurons (motor, somatosensory and visual) coding the peripersonal space in motor coordinates. This stream of research exerted influence on the understanding of human pathological signs such as the visuotactile extinction following parietal lesions.


Current activities:

 Luciano Fadiga is currently leading a group of researchers at the University of Ferrara, where he continues his research on monkey ventral premotor cortex (to elucidate the physiological mechanisms at the basis of mirror neurons visuomotor response) and on humans (by TMS and fMRI, to reveal the link between action representation and language). He coordinated a project on neuro-rehabilitation of stroke patients by action observation.

He is leading a group of researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology to investigate the possibility to establish hardware communication between the human brain and artificial device (cortical interfaces). He is actively involved in researches on human-human and human-robot interaction, from speech recognition to action understanding. Other fields of his research concern attention and its neural mechanisms in normal subjects and patients.

Luciano Fadiga is reviewer of many international journals in the field of Neuroscience and associated editor of some of them, he was principal investigator in CNR projects on reaching-grasping, he is actually responsible of  European Projects on action and speech recognition and control, he was co-investigator in Human Frontier Science Program and McDonnel-Pew funded projects, he published more than 80 peer-reviewed publications on international Journals. His work has received more than 25,000 citations (H-Index, 50).

Selected Publications

  1. Ricciardi E, Bonino D, Sani L, Vecchi T, Guazzelli M, Haxby JV, Fadiga L, Pietrini P (2009) Do we really need vision? How blind people "see" the actions of others. J Neurosci. 29:9719-24.
  2. Rochat MJ, Serra E, Fadiga L, Gallese V (2008) The evolution of social cognition: goal familiarity shapes monkeys' action understanding. Curr Biol. 18: 227-32.
  3. Roy A.C., Craighero L., Fabbri-Destro M., and Fadiga L (2008) Phonological and Lexical Motor Facilitation during Speech Listening: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study. Journal of Physiology, Paris 102(1-3):101-5.
  4. Craighero L, Metta G, Sandini G, Fadiga L (2007) The mirror-neurons system: data and models. Progr. Brain Res. 164: 39-59.
  5. Fadiga L (2007) Functional magnetic resonance imaging: measuring versus estimating. Neuroimage. 37: 1042-4.
  6. Olivier E, Davare M, Andres M, Fadiga L (2007) Precision grasping in humans: from motor control to cognition. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 17: 644-8.
  1. Fadiga L, Roy AC, Fazio P, Craighero L (2007) From hand actions to speech: evidence and speculations. In P. Haggard, Y. Rossetti, M. Kawato (Eds.) Sensorimotor Foundations of Higher Cognition, Attention and Performance XXII. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York.
  1. Fadiga L, Craighero L, Fabbri-Destro M, Finos L, Cotillon-Williams N, Smith AT, Castiello U. Language in shadow. Social Neuroscience. 1: 77-89, 2006.
  2. Fadiga L, Craighero L, Roy A. Broca's Region: A Speech Area? In Y Grodzinsky, K Amunts (Eds.). Broca's Region. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 2006.
  3. Fadiga L, Craighero L. Hand actions and speech representation in Broca's area. Cortex 42: 486-90, 2006.
  4. Metta G, Sandini G, Natale L, Craighero L, Fadiga L. Understanding mirror neurons: a bio-robotic approach. Interaction Studies 7: 197-232, 2006.
  5. Fadiga L, Craighero L, Olivier E. Human motor cortex excitability during the perception of others' action. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 15: 213-18, 2005.
  6. Rizzolatti G, Fadiga L. The mirror neuron system and action recognition. In HJ Freund and M Jeannerod (Eds.), Higher-order motor disorders, 141-58. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  7. Fadiga L, Craighero L, Buccino G, and Rizzolatti G. "Speech Listening Specifically Modulates the Excitability of Tongue Muscles: A TMS Study." European Journal of Neuroscience 15: 399-402, 2002.
  8. Umilta MA, Kohler E, Gallese V, Fogassi L, L Fadiga, Keysers C, and Rizzolatti G. "I Know What You Are Doing: A Neurophysiological Study." Neuron 31: 155-65, 2001.
  9. Fadiga L, Fogassi L, Gallese V, and Rizzolatti G. "Visuomotor Neurons: Ambiguity of the Discharge Or 'Motor' Perception?" International Journal of Psychophysiology 35: 165-77, 2000.
  10. Fadiga L, Buccino G, Craighero L, Fogassi L, Gallese V, and Pavesi G. "Corticospinal Excitability Is Specifically Modulated By Motor Imagery: A Magnetic Stimulation Study." Neuropsychologia 37: 147-58, 1999.
  11. Rizzolatti G, and Fadiga L. "Grasping Objects and Grasping Action Meanings: The Dual Role of Monkey Rostroventral Premotor Cortex (Area F5)." In Sensory Guidance Of Movement, Novartis Foundation Symposia, 1998.
  12. Fadiga L, and Gallese V. "Action Representation and Language in the Brain." Theoretical Linguistics 23: 267-80, 1997.
  13. Grafton ST, L Fadiga, Arbib MA, and Rizzolatti G. "Promotor Cortex Activation During Observation and Naming of Familiar Tools." Neuroimage 6: 231-36, 1997.
  14. Murata A, L Fadiga, Fogassi L, Gallese V, Raos V, and Rizzolatti G. "Object Representation in the Ventral Premotor Cortex (Area F5) of the Monkey." Journal of Neurophysiology 78: 2226-30, 1997.
  15. Rizzolatti G, L Fadiga, Fogassi L, and Gallese V. "The Space Around Us." Science 277: 190-91, 1997.
  16. Fogassi L, Gallese V, Fadiga L, Luppino G, Matelli M, and Rizzolatti G. "Coding of Peripersonal Space in Inferior Premotor Cortex (Area F4)." Journal of Neurophysiology 76: 141-57, 1996.
  17. Gallese V, Fadiga L, Fogassi L, and Rizzolatti G. "Action Recognition in the Premotor Cortex." Brain 119: 593-609, 1996.
  18. Grafton ST, Arbib MA, L Fadiga, and Rizzolatti G. "Localization of Grasp Representations in Humans by Positron Emission Tomography .2. Observation Compared With Imagination." Experimental Brain Research 112: 103-11, 1996.
  19. Rizzolatti G, Fadiga L, Gallese V, and Fogassi L. "Premotor Cortex and the recognition of Motor Actions." Cognitive Brain Research 3: 131-41, 1996.
  20. Rizzolatti G, Fadiga L, Matelli M, Bettinardi V, Paulesu E, Perani D, and Fazio F. "Localization of Grasp Representations in Humans by Pet. 1. Observation Versus Execution." Experimental Brain Research 111: 246-52, 1996.
  21. Fadiga L, Fogassi L, Pavesi G, and Rizzolatti G. "Motor Facilitation During Action Observation - a Magnetic Stimulation Study." Journal of Neurophysiology 73: 2608-11, 1995.
  22. Di Pellegrino G, Fadiga L, Fogassi L, Gallese V, and Rizzolatti G. "Understanding Motor Events - a Neurophysiological Study." Experimental Brain Research 91: 176-80, 1992.


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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.