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Manuel Molano

Marie Curie Fellow

Former colleague

Research Line

Neural Computation


CNCS@UniTn Trento


Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems Palazzo Fedrigotti Corso Bettini 31


I am a neuroscientist with a background in Mathematics. I have experience in both computational and experimental neuroscience.

Currently, I am a Marie Curie Fellow at the Centre for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems (Trento, Italy) with Prof. Stefano Panzeri. I am developing analytical and numerical tools to expose new principles of spike encoding that bridge the gap between  single cell and population information processing.

I previously worked with Prof. Rodrigo Quiroga at the Centre for Systems Neuroscience in Leicester (UK). During this period I built a 3D virtual environment for mice and set up a protocol for a decision making task.

Before that, I did my PhD at Instituto de Neurociencias in Alicante (Spain) with Dr. Miguel Maravall and Dr. Luis Martínez. In the course of my PhD I acquired both computational (modelling and data analysis) and experimental experience (2-photon microscopy).

Below, you can find my main publications, links to the places where I previously worked and to two blogs I have written (and still write). If you want to know more about my research experience you can click on the CV link on the top of this page. Thanks for visiting!


ETIC: Encoding and Transmission of Information in the Mouse Somatosensory Cortex

A major challenge in neuroscience is to understand how neurons encode information. Optogenetics techniques provide the opportunity of controlling neuronal activity with high temporal and spatial resolution and thus testing causally the role of a specific encoding strategy. However, to enable us to crack the neural code, these optical approaches need to be complemented by theoretical developments that:

  1. Identify the response variables of a neural population that carry the most information about sensory stimuli and thus allows to build a hypothesis about the neural code it uses.
  2. Create stimulation protocols specifically designed to rigorously test the hypothesis.
  3. Apply appropriate statistical analyses that determine whether different information-carrying components of neural population activity are transmitted through downstream networks.

My project has as its main goal to develop a novel theoretical framework to address these issues and help understanding how the mammalian cortex encodes sensory information, using the mouse somatosensory cortex as an experimental model. In particular, I am devising computational techniques aimed at characterizing the encoding and transmission of information in layer IV and then in one of its main targets: layer II/III. Specifically, I use Non-Negative Matrix Factorization methods to characterize how large-scale populations of layer IV encode whisker information.

Further, I have developed, in colaboration with Dr. Arno Onken, Dr. Houman Safaai and Prof. Stefano Panzeri, a jitter based method to decompose the electrophysiological responses of layer II/III neurons into independently contributing temporal scales and establish which whisker-informative components of layer IV population activity are transmitted to the responses of layer 2/3 neurons.

The project is carried on in tight collaboration with Tommaso Fellin's laboratory in Genova, where the experiments are performed by Dr. Marco Brondi.

Selected Publications

  • Francisco Martini, Manuel Molano-Mazón,  Miguel Maravall. “Interspersed distribution of selectivity to kinematic stimulus features in supragranular layers of mouse barrel cortex“ Cerebral Cortex 2017 
  • Ania Pitas*, Analia Albarracín*, Manuel Molano-Mazón*,  Miguel Maravall. “Variable temporal integration of stimulus patterns in the mouse barrel cortex“ Cerebral Cortex 2016 (*equal contribution)
  • Luis M. Martinez*, Manuel Molano-Mazón*, Xin Wang Friedrich T. Sommer and Judith A. Hirsch.”Statistical wiring of thalamic receptive fields optimizes spatial sampling of the retinal image”. Neuron 2014. (*equal contribution). Article featured in Journal cover.
  • Isabel Benjumeda*, Manuel Molano-Mazón* and Luis M Martinez. Flowers and weeds: cell-type specific pruning in the developing visual thalamus. BMC Biology 2014. (*equal contribution).
  • Verona Villar-Cerviño, Manuel Molano-Mazón, Timothy Catchpole, Miguel Valdeolmillos, Mark Henkemeyer, Luis M. Martínez, Víctor Borrell, Oscar Marín. “Cellular tiling in the cerebral cortex through contact repulsion”. Neuron 2013. Article featured in Journal cover.
  • Andrea Alenda, Manuel Molano-Mazón, Stefano Panzeri, & Miguel Maravall “Sensory input drives multiple intracellular information streams in somatosensory cortex”. J. Neurosci. 2010


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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.