How does the brain transform sensory stimuli into perceptual experiences? How can the very same stimulus sometimes be seen, and sometimes not? Why are we unaware of what is going on around us while we sleep? What are the neural mechanisms of consciousness?
These are the questions that lie at the center of my research activities, and that I address by combining techniques for in vivo multi-area large scale recordings, optogenetics, advanced data analysis and behavioral tasks.
A most striking feature of everyday experience is that the very same sensory stimulus can be differentially perceived (or even not perceived at all) based on the context in which it presents itself. Therefore, investigating the context in which a stimulus is processed by the brain can yield invaluable insights in the mechanisms of perception and consciousness. In the lab, we consider context in its broadest sense: brain state, (multi)sensory context, task contingencies, pathological conditions (e.g. stroke, autism).
The brain is an interconnected web of regions, which constantly exchange information. A key goal of my lab is to investigate the architecture of communication between regions, and how this varies as a function of contextual factors (brain state, task engagement, etc.) To achieve this, techniques such as multi-area silicon probe recordings (including Neuropixels probes) and optogenetics are coupled to advanced data analysis methods (information theory, dimensionality reduction).
Multisensory integration is observed at different levels of cortical organization, starting from primary sensory cortices. By investigating the microcircuit-level mechanisms of multimodal integration, I aim to shine light on key features of conscious processing such as perceptual binding.
The final pillar of my lab is neurotechnology. By employing and developing techniques to record, manipulate and analyze the activity of large-scale populations of neurons we aim to probe the distributed neuronal bases of perception.
My lab is part of the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group (CSN), chaired by Prof. Cyriel Pennartz. With multimodal processing and perception as common denominator of the CSN group, the lab focuses on the application of in vivo multi-area recordings and optogenetics and on the development of neurotechnological approaches to study the neuronal bases of (multi)sensory processing and perception, and how these are affected by disorders such as stroke. A key area of interest is the experimental study of theories of consciousness. A tight collaboration is established with Prof. Cyriel Pennartz (INTENSE project, Templeton Initiative on Accelerating Research on Consciousness, Human Brain Project), with Dr. Conrado Bosman (FLAG-ERA projects CANON and DOMINO) and with Dr. Jorge Mejias (integration of experimental data with computational modeling).
I was trained as a Biomedical Engineer at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa, Italy) and at the University of Pisa. During my PhD at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, I moved to neuroscience, and I established a collaboration with Prof. Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in Madison, I developed an interest in the study of sleep and consciousness. I worked on a computational model to study the memory consequences of the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, and collaborated with Vladyslav Vyazovskiy to study the nature of cortical spiking activity during sleep. One major result was the discovery that cortical patches can display local sleep while an individual is behaviorally awake. During my PostDoc, I worked with Dr. Paolo Medini at the Italian Institute of Technology (Genoa, Italy). There, I focused on the application of a wide range of in vivo experimental techniques (whole-cell patch clamp, ensemble recordings, two-photon calcium imaging, optogenetics) to characterize the microcircuit-level architecture of multisensory integration in the parietal cortex. As a group leader in the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group at the University of Amsterdam, I mainly focus on the neuronal mechanism of perception: how sensory stimuli are converted by the brain into perceptual experiences. To achieve this objective, I have established a strong network of collaborations, primarily with the other members of the CSN Group.
I am also a member of the Amsterdam Young Academy, in which I focus on making academic as well as everyday life more sustainable.
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