Sleep is associated with significant genetic and epigenetic changes, suggesting the idea that its purpose is to regulate fundamental physiological and behavioural functions. Our group is systematically investigating, for the first time, the role of a genome-diffused mechanism, namely genomic imprinting, in sleep regulation. Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic mechanism that results in allele-specific expression of some genes according to parental origin and, in vertebrates, is unique to mammals. Sleep is the longest state in development (i.e., it occupies 2/3 of the day in newborns) and it depends on profound developmental processes; genomic imprinting is also crucial in developmental growth, neurogenesis and brain plasticity. We are at the early stage of the exploration of what we could call ‘the genomic imprinting hypothesis of sleep’. There are several aspects of this epigenetic phenomenon that must be investigated. Our group is addressing the link between sleep and imprinting investigating the role of specific imprinted genes and, in general, exploring parent-of-origin effects.
In our lab we adopt a multidisciplinary approach, ranging from behavioural studies to molecular genetics, electrophysiology and systems biology. We developed automated novel home-cage systems to study circadian and cognitive phenotypes in mice; moreover we created mathematical models, combined with optical imaging, to assess genetic noise in neuronal networks and to understand how individual neurons set their internal clock.
- Pat Nolan, MRC - Harwell (Oxford): several collaborative projects studying phenotypic expressions of clock genes.
- Antonius Plagge, University of Liverpool: collaboration on the role of Xlas in neurodevelopmental processes.
- Sacri Ferron, University of Valencia: collaboration on the role of NSC in olfactory functions and sleep.
- Laura Cancedda, IIT: several collaborations on neurodevelopmental processes and parent-of-origin effects.
- Fuat Balci, Koç University: collaboration on the study of genetics and epigenetics of interval timing.