Dr. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt obtained his Bachellor degree in Biology at the University of the Andes in Merida. Later on he got a MSc degree on Biochemistry and Cellular Biology, in the context of an international research project, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Afterwards, he earned a PhD degree and a Post Doc in Neurobiology at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa while working with Lamberto Maffei. He then moved to the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), as a Post Doc, in Rovereto. At the moment, he is a Research Scientist at the IIT in Genova working with Fabio Benfenati. In addition to his research activities at the IIT, he obtained the "abilitazione scientifica" and was recently appointed (2015) as Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine and Pharmacy, at the University of Genova. His research interests centre on (i) neuronal interfaces designed to substitute damaged tissues in the nervous system and (ii) experience-dependent mechanisms of neuronal plasticity that underlie sensory perception and behaviour. Dr. Maya-Vetencourt is author of 4 book chapters, 3 patents, 18 publications in peer-reviewed journals, including: Science, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Materials, Nature Communications, Journal of Physiology, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, European Journal of Neuroscience, Neural Plasticity, Journal of Experimental Neuroscience, Advanced Healthcare Materials, Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. He has delivered more than 20 scientific presentations at international meetings abroad. His academic record includes > 1600 citations with an “H-index” 13 during the last 5 years according to Google Scholar (Impact Factor/Manuscript: 7.84; Total Impact Factor: 132.6). He is member of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (SINS), the American Society of Neuroscience (SfN), and the Italian Physiological Society (SIF). He works as an associate review editor for “Frontiers in Neurogenomics” and “Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience”. In the year 2017, he was awarded two prestigious and independent scientific recognitions as "Young Investigator": one by the Italian Physiological Society in Pavia and another by the Federation of European Physiological Societies in Vienna.
J.F. Maya-Vetencourt is currently leading the following research projects
• Project 1: Artificial Retina in the RCS retinal degeneration rat model: functional and behavioral recovery of vision in Retinitis pigmentosa
• Project 2: Development of an artificial retinal prosthesis in a swine model of blindness: towards the human phase-1 experimentation
• Project 3: Role of the transcription factor REST on brain plasticity in health and disease as assessed by optogenetics
Summary of Research Projects
• Utilization of neuronal interfaces in retinal pathologies of rodents and swines
Recently, in the department of Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology led by Prof. Benfenati at the IIT, Dr Maya-Vetencourt started to work on an innovative line of research that centres on the development and employment of optoelectronic interfaces as a therapeutic approach to retinal pathologies. After setting-up an in vivo electrophysiology laboratory, Dr. Maya-Vetencourt initiated to study the application of the aforementioned photovoltaic interfaces as neuronal prosthesis in retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, in both rodents and pigs. The figure shows the 3-layers prosthetic device (upper pannel, dorsal and transversal view) implanted in the subretinal space (lower pannel) of the eye in the rat (Maya-Vetencourt et al. Nat Materials 2017, 16(6): 681). In parallel, we are working with an artificial retina specially designed for the swine eye. We are implanting such photovoltaic device in pigs bearing photoreceptor degeneration, to evaluate the rescue of visual functions and to develop the surgical technique of implantation in an eye that resembles that of humans as the last experimental step before the phase-1 experimentation in man. We are also testing novel polymeric interfaces based on new materials and geometries to develop more advanced, next-generation retinal prostheses. The purpose of the artificial retina project is to promote the development of new therapeutic strategies using animal models of genetic illnesses of the human retina. This translational line of research is clinically relevant in retinal diseases with an incidence of 1 every 4000 people worldwide for which there is currently no medical treatment.
• Mechanisms of neuronal plasticity in the visual system assessed by optogenetics coupled to eletrophysiology
The brain translates information from the external world through signals generated by the electrical activity associated with sensory inputs and orchestrates adaptive responses to changing environmental conditions by processes of neuronal plasticity. Epigenetic modifications of chromatin structure that regulate gene transcription, and therefore plasticity, have recently emerged as a conserved mechanism by which the nervous system translates external information. The master transcriptional repressor REST is a critical regulator of chromatin structure and gene expression, but its precise role in brain physiology and disease is still debated. In this multidisciplinary research project we are addressing the role of the transcriptional repressor REST in processes of visual cortical plasticity in adulthood. This is achieved by employing light-sensitive optogenetic probes that modulate REST activity by illumination with an unprecedented temporal and spatial resolution. The left figure depicts the light-sensitive domain (Avena sativa) that was used for the molecular design of the optogenetic probe previusly created in the laboratory (Paonessa et al. PNAS 2016, 113: E91). The right figure corresponds to the brain of an adult mouse that has been monolaterally infected with the ligh-sensitive probe (GFP labeling) in the primary visual cortex. The identification of epigenetic mechanisms and plasticity genes is an issue of high interest in the field of brain plasticity and repair with potential clinical applications in pathological states where a reorganization of neuronal circuitries may be beneficial in adult life.
External Fund Raising
Research Grants as Principal Investigator
• Fondazione San Paolo. 2016-2018. 180.000 €.
“Modulation of adult visual cortical plasticity via optogenetic control of gene expression”
1. Stéphane Molotchnikoff, Vishal Bharmauria, Nayan Chanauria, Lyes Bachatene, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2018. The function of connectomes in encoding sensory stimuli. Progress in Neurobiology. IF 13.2 (submitted)
2. Mattia DiFrancesco, Francesco Lodola, Elisabetta Colombo, Luca Maragliano, Giuseppe M. Paternò, Mattia Bramini, Simone Cimò, Letizia Collela, Daniele Fazzi, Cyril G. Eleftheriou, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Chiara Bertarelli, Guglielmo Lanzani, Fabio Benfenati. A membrane-targeted photoswitch potently modulates neuronal firing. Nature Nanotechnology. IF 38.98 (submitted)
3. Francesca Barone, Eleonora Nannoni, Alberto Elmi, Domenico Ventrella, Marika Vitali, Giovanna Martelli, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Fabio Benfenati, Maria Laura Bacci. 2018. Behavioral vision assessment in the biomedical pig. Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science 57(4): 350-356. IF 1.34 Manuscript
4. Mattia Bramini, Alberini Giulio, Elisabetta Colombo, Martina Chiacchiaretta, Mattia Lorenzo Di Francesco, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Luca Maragliano, Fabio Benfenati, Fabrizia Cesca. 2018. Interfacing graphene-based materials with neural cells. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 12: 12. IF 3.42 Manuscript
5. Cyril Eleftheriou, Fabrizia Cesca, Luca Maragliano, Fabio Benfenati, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author). 2017. Optogenetic modulation of intracellular signalling and transcription: focus on neuronal plasticity. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience 11: 1-16. IF 0.4 Manuscript
6. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Diego Ghezzi, Maria Rosa Antognazza, Maurizio Mete, Paul Feyen, Andrea Desii, Ambra Buschiazzo, Mattia Di Paolo, Stefano Di Marco, Flavia Ticconi, Laura Emionite, Dmytro Shmal, Cecilia Marini, Elisabetta Colombo, Ilaria Donelli, Giuliano Freddi, Silvia Bisti, Gianmario Sambuceti, Grazia Pertile, Guglielmo Lanzani, Fabio Benfenati. 2017. A fully organic retinal prosthesis restores vision in a rat model of degenerative blindness. Nature Materials 16(6): 681-689. IF 39.74 Manuscript
7. Maria Rosa Antognazza, Mattia Di Paolo, Diego Ghezzi, Maurizio Mete, Stefano Di Marco, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Rita Maccarone, Andrea Desii, Fabio Di Fonzo, Mattia Bramini, Angela Russo, Lucia Laudato, Ilaria Donelli, Michele Cilli, Giuliano Freddi, Grazia Pertile, Guglielmo Lanzani, Silvia Bisti, Fabio Benfenati . 2016. Characterization of a polymer-based, fully organic prosthesis for implantation into the subretinal space of the rat. Advanced Healthcare Materials 5(17): 2271-2282. IF 5.11 Manuscript
8. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Nicola Carucci, Simona Capsoni, Antonino Cattaneo. 2014. Amyloid plaque-independent deficit of visual cortical plasticity by AB-aggregation in the 5XFAD transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 42(1): 103–107. IF 3.73 Manuscript
9. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) and Tommaso Pizzorusso. 2013. Molecular mechanisms at the basis of plasticity in the developing visual cortex: epigenetic processes and gene programs. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience 7: 75–83. IF 0.4 Manuscript
10. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author). 2013. Activity dependent NPAS4 expression and the regulation of gene programs underlying plasticity in the central nervous system. Neural Plasticity 2013: 683909. IF 3.16 Manuscript
11. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) & Matteo Caleo. 2013. Experience-dependent plasticity in the central nervous system. In Neurosciences. Eds: P.M. Lledo and G. Galizia. Springer Verlag Press, Amsterdam. IF: NA Book Chapter
12. Ettore Tiraboschi, Ramon Guirado, Dario Greco, Petri Auvinen, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Lamberto Maffei, Eero Castren. 2013. Gene expression patterns underlying the reinstatement of plasticity in the adult visual system. Neural Plasticity 2013: 605079. IF 3.16 Manuscript
13. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Ettore Tiraboschi, Dario Greco, Laura Restani, Chiara Cerri, Petri Auvinen, Lamberto Maffei, Eero Castren. 2012. Experience-dependent expression of NPAS4 regulates plasticity in adult visual cortex. Journal of Physiology 590(19): 4777-4787. IF 5.04 Manuscript
14. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author) and Nicola Origlia. 2012. Visual cortex plasticity: a complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences. Neural Plasticity 2012: 631965. IF 3.16 Manuscript
15. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Laura Baroncelli, Alessandro Viegi, Ettore Tiraboschi, Eero Castren, Antonino Cattaneo, Lamberto Maffei. 2012. IGF-1 restores visual cortex plasticity in adult life by reducing local GABA levels. Neural Plasticity 2012: 250421. IF 3.16 Manuscript
16. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2012. Plasticity of visual cortical circuitries in adulthood. In Visual Cortex: Anatomy, Functions and Injuries. Eds: J.M. Harris and J. Scott. Nova Science Publishers, New York. IF: NA Book Chapter
17. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt & Matteo Caleo, 2012. Insights into visual cortex plasticity: interaction of genes and sensory experience. In Visual Cortex. Eds: S. Molotchnikoff. InTech Publishers, New York. IF: NA Book Chapter
18. Maria Spolidoro, Laura Baroncelli, Elena Putignano, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Alessandro Viegi, Lamberto Maffei. 2011. Food restriction enhances visual cortex plasticity in adulthood. Nature Communications 2: 320. IF 13.69 Manuscript
19. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Ettore Tiraboschi, Maria Spolidoro, Eero Castren, Lamberto Maffei. 2011. Serotonin triggers a transient epigenetic mechanism that reinstates adult visual cortex plasticity in rats. European Journal of Neuroscience 33(1): 49-57. IF 2.94 Manuscript
20. Eero Castren & José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. 2011. Neurotrophins as regulators of visual cortical plasticity. In Cerebral Plasticity. Eds: L.M. Chalupa, N. Berardi, M. Caleo, L. Galli-Resta, T. Pizzorusso. MIT Press, Cambridge. IF: NA Book Chapter
21. Laura Baroncelli, Alessandro Sale, Alessandro Viegi, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Roberto De Pasquale, Sara Baldini, Lamberto Maffei. 2010. Experience-dependent reactivation of ocular dominance plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Experimental Neurology 226(1): 100-109. IF 4.70 Manuscript
22. Flavia Antonucci, Chiara Cerri, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt, Matteo Caleo. 2010. Acute neuroprotection by the synaptic blocker botulinum neurotoxin e (BoNT-E) in a rat model of focal cerebral ischaemia. Neuroscience 169: 395-401. IF 3.28 Manuscript
23. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Matteo Caleo, Lamberto Maffei. 2009. Frontiers of neuronal plasticity: can we treat amblyopia in adulthood? Ophthalmology International Review 4: 45-50. IF: NA Manuscript
24. José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (corresponding author), Alessandro Sale, Alessandro Viegi, Laura Baroncelli, Roberto De Pasquale, Olivia O’Leary, Eero Castrén, Lamberto Maffei. 2008. The antidepressant fluoxetine restores plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Science 320(5874): 385-388. IF 37.20 Manuscript
25. Alessandro Sale, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt (1st coauthor), Paolo Medini, Maria Cristina Cenni, Laura Baroncelli, Roberto De Pasquale, Lamberto Maffei. 2007. Environmental enrichment in adulthood promotes amblyopia recovery through a reduction of intracortical inhibition. Nature Neuroscience 10(6): 679-681. IF 17.84 Manuscript
• Eero Castrén, Lamberto Maffei, José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. A method of treating amblyopia. 2008. International publication number: EP2173334A1 or WO 2009/004114 A1. Finland. Hermo Pharma Ltd (VAT FI21986657). Patent
Invited talks and seminars
• Conference controlling neuronal plasticity. Dec. 2018. The optogenetic reduction of REST in adult visual cortex rescues ocular dominance plasticity in mice. Prague, Czech Republic.
• The 2nd NSYN retreat. November 2018. Rescue and transfer of the ENGRAM. Florence, Italy.
• 69th Italian Physiological Society Congress. September 2018. Role of REST in ocular dominance plasticity. Florence, Italy.
• Neuroscience Institute, CNR. June 2017. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis. Pisa, Italy.
• Conference on Materials Science and Technology. December, 2016. A polymer-based interface modulates neuronal activity and restores light-sensitivity in blind rats. Sicily, Italy.
• 4th Congress on Neurotechnology, Electronics & Informatics. November, 2016. A fully organic retinal prosthesis restores vision in a rat model of degenerative blindness. Porto, Portugal.
• Erice International School of Bioelectromagnetics. April, 2016. Optogenetics: a new tool to interrogate and modulate neural circuitries in the brain. Sicily, Italy.
• OLIMPIA Workshop. April, 2016. Organic artificial retina: latest results and future perspectives. Milan, Italy.
• XVI Neuroscience Congress. SINS. October, 2015. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis. Cagliari, Italy.
• 66th Italian Physiological Society Congress. September 2015. Commanding neuronal activity with light: from photovoltaic interfaces to neuronal prosthesis. Genoa, Italy.
• Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). November 2012. Optogenetics-fMRI: optogenetic and functional mapping of neural substrates of plasticity in the nervous system. Rovereto, Italy.
• Catholic University of Leuven. June 2012. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a complex interplay between genes and environmental experience. Leuven, Belgium.
• Istituto Farmacologia Traslazionale. Italy. September 2011. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a dialogue between genes and environment. CNR. Cagliari.
• Collège de France. October 2010. Adult Visual Cortical Plasticity: a dialogue between genes and environment. Paris, France.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. June 2010. Neurotrophic Factors in Health and Disease. University of Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.
• Institute Pasteur. November 2009. Frontiers of Neuronal Plasticity. Epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression: temporal kinetics. Paris, France.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. October 2008. Cerebral Plasticity: New Perspectives. Scuola Normale Superiore. Pisa, Italy.
International congresses and meetings (posters)
• 69th Italian Physiological Society Congress. September 2018. Photoswitchable amphiphilic molecules for light-dependent modulation of neuronal activity. Florence, Italy.
• SfN.Annual Meeting. November 2018. High-resolution photostimulation strategy using organic light-sensitive nanoparticles to rescue retinal dystrophy. San Diego, USA.
• Congress “Graphene”. March 2018. Biomedical Technologies WP5. Graphene-based light-sensitive interfaces for retinal prosthetics. Madrid, Spain.
• Congress of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine. October 2017. Imaging of basal metabolic activity of primary visual cortex in mice. Vienna, Austria.
• Congress “Graphene”. March 2017. Biomedical Technologies WP5. Improvement of photosensitive neural interfaces with graphene for retinal prosthesis desing. Barcelona, Spain.
• Congress "Graphene". October 2016. Biomedical Technologies WP4-WP5. Photosensitive Neuronal Interfaces for Biomedical Applications. Madrid, Spain.
• European Neuroscience Congress (FENS). July 2016. Smart materials for Biomedical Applications. Copehagen, Denmark.
• FELASA Congress. June 2016. Objective and subjective vision assessment in iodoacetic acid model of swine retinal degeneration. Brussels, Belgium.
• Neuroscience workshop. April 2014. Engrams and Memory Traces. European Brain Research Institute (EBRI). Accademia dei Lincei. Rome, Italy.
• Optogenetics Worshop. February 2014. Optogenetic Innovation Laboratory of Prof. Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University. Stanford, USA.
• 7th International Brain Research Conference. October 2012. Optogenetics and Pharmacogenetics in Neuronal Function and Dysfunction. New Orleans, USA.
• SfN Annual Meeting. October 2012. Optogenetics and Neuronal Plasticity in the Visual System. New Orleans, USA.
• IBRO Summer School. June 2011. Development and Plasticity of Cortical Representation. Bertinoro. Bologna, Italy.
• SfN Annual Meeting. November 2010. Gene expression analysis of fluoxetine-induced plasticity in the adult visual cortex. San Diego, USA.
• European Neuroscience Meeting. May 2009. Organization and plasticity of the visual cortex. Scuola Normale Superiore. Pisa, Italy.
• European Neuroscience Congress (FENS). July 2008. Chronic fluoxetine administration restores plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Geneve, Switzerland.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. June 2008. Advances Techniques in Molecular Neuroscience. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. New York, USA.
• Gordon Research Conference. July 2007. Inhibition in the CNS. Fluoxetine-induced plasticity in the adult visual cortex. Colby College. Boston, USA.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. June 2007. V Incontro dell’istituto di Neuroscienze del CNR. Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR). Cagliari, Italy.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. November 2006. Environmental enrichment in adulthood promotes amblyopia recovery through a reduction of inhibition. CSHL. New York, USA.
• International Neuroscience Meeting. April 2005. Neuroplasticity, Neurotrophic Factors and Mood Disorders. Consiglio Nazionale della Ricerca (CNR). Pisa, Italy.
• Young Investigator Award. 2017. Italian Physiological Society (SIF). Pavia, Italia.
• Raising Star Award. 2017. Federation of European Physiological Societies (FEPS). Vienna, Austria.
• Award for Major Scientific Advances in Biology. 2008. Faculty of 1000 Biology. Comment on article: Science 320(5874): 385-388.
Past & Present Lab Members
Dr. Alessio Cavalli, graduate student (biotechnology)
Dr. Dmytro Shmal, graduate student (medicine)
Dr. Cyril Eleftheriou, post doc fellow (neuroscience)
Dr. Francesca Barone, post doc fellow (veterinary)
Dr. Martina Pesce, undergraduate student (biotechnology)
Dr. Alice Prasso, undergraduate student (biotechnology)
Dr. Giulia Mantero, undergraduate student (biotechnology)