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Olga Barca

Post Doc

Research Line

Neurobiology of miRNA


IIT Central Research Labs Genova


via Morego, 30
+39 010 2896 860
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Olga Barca was born in 1978, in Santiago, Spain. She is a senior Post Doc at the Neurobiology of mIRNAS and IIT-NetS3 laboratories at the Dpt. of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies (Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT, Genova, Italy)).

She pursued a PhD in Neuroendocrionology at the Department of Physiology at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and graduated Cum Laude (2008). After obtaining her PhD degree, she moved as post-doc to the Laboratory of Dr Roy Weiss and Dr Samuel Refetoff, at the Department of Medicine of the University of Chicago where she focused on endocrinology and metabolism in physiological and pathological conditions. The long-term interest in neuroscience and neurophysiology prompted her to pursue a second Post-doc experience and in (2011) she moved to the laboratory of Dr. Richard Lu at the Developmental Department in UTSW (Dallas, Texas) to investigate glia development and physiology.

In 2013, she moved to IIT (Genova) as senior postdoc and was awarded with two Marie Curie Fellowships (CIG and IEF) to explore the explore the contribution of astrocyte circadian rhythms ("astroclock") to the timekeeping system. Two years later, in 2015, she was awarded with a Cariplo Research Grant to explore the role of "astroclock" in diseases associated to alteration of circadian rhythms, such as metabolic and age associated neuropathology.


2016-2019 - Cariplo Research Grant. Role of the astrocyte-mediated circadian clock in neurodegeneration and brain aging.

Biological rhythms govern the ebb and flow of life on the Earth. Animals have an internal timekeeping sytem to precisely regulate 24-hour rhythms of gene expression that influence cellular metabolism, organ function and behavior. In mammals, the circadian system is organized in a hierarchy of multiple oscillators, at organism, cellular and molecular level.
Cumulative evidences show that genetic or environmental insults affecting the circadian system can lead to symptoms of accelerated brain aging as well as local inflammation and peripheral metabolic abnormalities. However, the mechanisms by which circadian dysfunction exacerbate age-related neuropathologies and metabolic abnormalities remain unclear. A deeper understanding of mechanisms controlling circadian system is needed by both the scientific community and drug-industry to exploit and rapidly advance our knowledge on brain aging as well as age-associated neuropathology, neuroimmune and metabolic disorders.
Recent studies suggest that astrocytes (the most abundant cells of the brain) actively participate in the modulation of physiological and circadian behavioral processes in invertebrates. Although astrocytes are directly involved in the regulation of synaptic neuronal signaling (“tripartite synapse”), the contribution of astrocytes circadian rhythms ("astroclock" to the timeleeping system is still unknown.
Our hypothesis is that “astroclock” maintains neural rhythmic behavior and, thus, slows brain aging and the associated decline of cognitive functions and peripheral metabolic abnormalities. We propose to unravel the molecular and functional mechanisms by which “astroclock” maintains neural rhythmic behavior and slow brain aging by exploiting a multidisciplinary research program, which spans the fields of RNA biology, glia- and neuro-biology, mouse behavior and metabolism. We will perform an in-depth study of the circadian clock in astrocytes at the molecular, cellular and organism levels by combining genetics, molecular profiling (deep sequencing), behavioral, imaging and metabolic studies.
The results of this proposal will lead to a deeper understanding on circadian rhythms in the brain and to the potential identification of new cellular and molecular targets of circadian-associated disorders, brain aging as well as age-associated neuroimmune and metabolic disorders.

2014-2016 - Marie Curie Intra-European fellowship ASTROCLOK (grant agreement PIEF-GA-2013-629867): Astrocyte regulation of circadian behavior.

The human brain contains more than 100 billion cells, the majority being non-excitable glial cells, remarkably coordinated by an intrinsic clock that produce a circadian rhythm in their physiology and behavior. Circadian alterations affect human performances, productivity and are associated to increased risk of human-error related accidents and to a variety of brain disorders (e.g. sleep disorders). However, neuropharmacological R&D faces the lack of knowledge on how this clock signaling is hierarchically orchestrated within so many brain cells to lead to the cycle-to-cycle precision of circadian rhythmicity.
Recent studies suggest that astrocytes (the most abundant cells of the brain) actively participate in the modulation of physiological and circadian behavioral processes in invertebrates. Although astrocytes are directly involved in the regulation of synaptic neuronal signaling (“tripartite synapse”), the role of astrocytes in controlling circadian behavior in mammals is largely unknown.
This projects converges an original multidisciplinary research program, spanning the fields of molecular neurobiology, neuroelectronics and circadian biology, to unravel the molecular and functional mechanisms by which neurons and astrocytes cooperate to influence circadian rhythmicity in mammals. To do so, innovative genetics, molecular profiling (deep sequencing), behavioral, imaging and electrophysiological approaches will be used. The results of this proposal will lead to a deeper understanding on circadian rhythms in the brain and to the potential identification of new cellular and signaling targets for neuropharmacology.


Selected Publications

1.- O. Barca, S. Ferré, M. Seoane, JM. Prieto, M. Lema, RM. Señarís, VM. Arce. Interferon beta promotes survival in primary cultures of rat astrocytes trough PI-3K. J of Neuroimmunol. 2003, 139: 155-9.

2.- Barca O, Seoane M, Ferré S, Prieto JM, Lema M, Señarís R, Arce VM. Mechanisms of interferon-beta-induced survival in fetal and neonatal primary astrocytes. Neuroimmunomodulation. 2007, 14: 39-45.

3.- Barca O, Costoya JA, Señarís RM, Arce VM. Interferon beta protects astrocytes against tumour necrosis factor alpha-induced apoptosis via activation of p38-mitogen activated protein kinase. Exp Cell Res. 2008, 314: 2231-7.

4.- Palos-Paz F, Perez-Guerra O, Cameselle-Teijeiro J, Rueda-Chimeno C, Barreiro-Morandeira F, Lado-Abeal J; Galician Group for the Study of Toxic Multinodular Goitre, Araujo Vilar D, Argueso R, Barca O, Botana M, Cabezas-Agrícola JM, Catalina P, Dominguez Gerpe L, Fernandez T, Mato A, Nuño A, Penin M, Victoria B. Prevalence of mutations in TSHR, GNAS, PRKAR1A and RAS genes in a large series of toxic thyroid adenomas from Galicia, an iodine-deficient area in NW Spain. Eur J Endocrinol. 2008, 159: 623-31.

5.- Olga Barca, Carmen Carneiro, José A. Costoya, Rosa Mª Señarís, Víctor M. Arce. Resistance of neonatal rat primary astrocytes against Fas-induced apoptosis depends on epigenetic silencing of caspase 8. Neurosci Lett. 2010, 479: 206-10.

6. Olga Barca, Pablo Devesa, Rosa Mª Señarís, Víctor M. Arce. Bimodal effect of interferon-β on astrocyte proliferation and survival: Importance of nuclear factor-kB. J Neuroimmunol. 2010, 226: 73-80.

7.- Lado Abeal J, Albero Gamboa R, Araujo Vilar D, Barca Mallo O, Bernabeú Moron I, Calvo MT, Castro Piedras I, Martin Calamata J, Palos Paz F, Peinó R, Peteiro D, Victoria B. Clinical and molecular study of five families with resistance to thyroid hormones. Med Clin (Barc). 2011 Nov 12;137(12):551-4. Research Article.

8. Olga Barca-Mayo, Xiao-Hui Liao, Manuela Alonso, Caterina Di Cosmo, Arturo Mynandez, Samuel Refetoff, Roy E. Weiss. Thyroid hormone receptor alpha and regulation of type 3 deiodinase. Mol Endo. 2011, 25: 575-583. Recommended F1000.

9. Barca-Mayo O, Liao XH, DiCosmo C, Dumitrescu A, Moreno-Vinasco L, Wade MS, Sammani S, Mirzapoiazova T, Garcia JG, Refetoff S, Weiss RE. Role of type 2 deiodinase in response to acute lung injury (ALI) in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011, 108: E1321-9.

10. Olga Barca Mayo; Xiao Hui Liao; Caterina DiCosmo; Liliana Moreno Vinasco; Michael S Wade; Saad

11.- Grasberger H, De Deken X, Mayo OB, Raad H, Weiss M, Liao XH, Refetoff S. Mice deficient in dual oxidase maturation factors are severely hypothyroid. Mol Endocrinol. 2012, 26:481-92.

12.- Barca-Mayo O, Lu QR. Fine-Tuning Oligodendrocyte Development by microRNAs. Front Neurosci. 2012;6: 13.

13.- Barca O, Seoane M, Señarís RM, Arce VM. Fas/CD95 Ligation Induces Proliferation of Primary Fetal Astrocytes Through a Mechanism Involving Caspase 8-Mediated ERK Activation. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2013 Jul 12; 32 (1): 111-120.

14.- Barca-Mayo O and De Pietri D. Convergent and divergent miRNA actions control neocortical development. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 02/2014; DOI:10.1007/s00018-014-1576-5.

15.- Marta Liliana Trujillo and Olga Barca Mayo. Protein analysis. Laboratory techniques for research. Editorial Académica Española, 08/2016. ISBN 978-3-639-66598-7. Book chapter. 2016.

16.- Olga Barca-Mayo, Meritxell Pons-Espinal, Philipp Follert, Andrea Armirotti, Luca Berdondini and Davide De Pietri Tonelli. Astrocyte deletion of Bmal1 alters daily locomotor activity and cognitive functions via GABA signaling. Nat Comm. 2017: 8:14336. doi:10.1038/ncomms14336.




Predoctoral Fellowship. Department of Physiology. School of Medicine. University of Santiago de Compostela. Xunta de Galicia


Award, Technology and Innovative Ideas.University of Santiago de Compostela.


Research Fellowship. Department of Physiology. School of Medicine. University of Santiago de Compostela. Diputación de A Coruña. Resignation in July 2003.

2003-2006 Predoctoral Fellowship. Department of Physiology. School of Medicine. University of Santiago de Compostela. Xunta de Galicia.


Grant CTSA-ITM Genomics Core at the University of Chicago


Tess travel grant. ENDO abstract award. The endocrine society.


CIG Marie Curie Fellowship. Resignation in December 2013


IEF Marie Curie Fellowship.

2015 Award, Gordon Conference, Chronobiology
2015 Award, Japan Neuroscience Society
2015 Award, EMBO/EMBL, Biological Oscillators: Design, Mechanism, Function
2016-2019 Cariplo research grant
2016 Award, 21st Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience (ISDN)


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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.