A major challenge in the field of neuroscience is to understand how the brain learns to choose adaptively between different behavioral options in order to reach specific goals, and how this process is influenced by motivation and environmental cues. To address these questions, we investigate the key molecular and cellular mechanisms trough which neuromodulatory pathways regulate synaptic functions to shape the balance between cognitive flexibility (goal-directed behavior) and behavioral stability (habitual behavior). Elucidating how these adaptive behaviors are formed and operated at defined neuronal circuits is instrumental to understand how decision making is modified across life span, or disrupted in brain diseases, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorders, and Parkinson’s disease. The ultimate goal is to develop our projects at the interface of basic research and biomedical application. The results of our studies will help elucidating common neurobiological substrates underlying the comorbidity between some neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, seeking to identify novel therapeutic strategies.
To achieve these goals, we develop our research program along three main axes:
The lab applies an integrative experimental approach, combining neurophysiological and imaging techniques with state of the art viral-based strategies to deconstruct and manipulate neuronal circuits, alongside behavioral analysis. We have been investigating the neuromodulatory mechanisms that regulate synaptic connectivity between the cortex and subcortical regions (striatum and locus coeruleus). These brain regions play a major role in reward-based learning and action control, and may be modified in several neurological and psychiatric pathologies.