Cristina Marchetti

Synaptic signaling and plasticity

Brains are plastic and encode new stimuli and memories by changing the basic electrical and chemical patterns of activity through which neurons communicate. In particular, the hippocampus and cortex are two brain regions crucial for learning and memory encoding. Our interest is therefore to understand how the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes affect neuronal signaling in these two regions in physiological and pathological conditions. To this end, we use a combination of techniques that range from in vivo viral mediated gene transfer (that allows for expression of recombinant proteins in the brain) to in vitro electrophysiology (used to record electrical signals from neurons) to behavior.

Memory is particularly affected in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Here, we investigate how neuronal signaling is altered, in particular in the early stages of the disease, to pinpoint pre-symptomatic events that could be responsible for altered brain activity and eventually neurodegeneration. At the moment, our focus is to understand single cell and network properties that lead to hyperexcitability and epileptic seizures in AD patients and animal models.

We also have a more recent project that investigates the role of neuroligins, a family of synaptic proteins whose function is altered in autism, in hippocampal transmission and plasticity