Where did you study before coming to Toronto: I moved from Parma (my hometown) in 1994 and started my scientific career as a undergraduate student at the faculty of Psychology in Urbino (Italy). As my interest for psychobiology grew up and matured into a true passion I moved to Rome where I graduated in experimental psychology and started my Neurosciences PhD. During my PhD I had the opportunity to work in Marseilles (France) and Magdeburg (Germany) where I got fascinated by neuronal morphology and learning-induced structural plasticity.
Currently working on: I am trying to understand how memories are formed in the brain. Neuronal rewiring is believed to underlie memory formation and storage. Therefore, my current research is focused on neuronal structural plasticity (i.e. changes in the structure of both spines and dendrites aimed at modifying the pattern of connectivity between neurons). Do neural cells change their connectivity according to learning experiences? Can we alter memory traces changing the pattern of connectivity between neurons? Does structural plasticity occur in newborn hippocampal cells? These are core questions that I am trying to answer using a multidisciplinary approach ranging from behavioral analysis to molecular biology.
Favorite paper: My favorite paper is a Science paper by Reijmers et al (2007). Basically, they show that learning and retrieval of a fear memory trace activate the same subset of neurons in the amygdala. The idea that a memory trace might be univocally linked to a subset of neurons is appealing. Are neurons committed to a specific memory trace? Do neurons represent nodes of memory networks? Is the neural substrate of the memory trace stable? How can memories be flexible and stable at the same time?
Why science? If I weren’t a scientist, I would be… Science satisfies my obsessive need to discover recurrent patterns and stability underneath the chaotic flow of life. This obsessive drive frequently turns into an aversive feeling towards order and rationality. For this reason I often imagine what my life would be like if I had chosen different careers such as the firefighter or the illustrator of graphic novels for children (a project that I am pursuing when I am out of the lab).
Interests outside the lab: Photography, drawing , hiking.
Favorite place inToronto: I love Dundas square. I spend hours standing in the middle of the crowd trying to imagine how those huge flows of people look like when seen from above. It is the place where thousands of people from different countries mix together and compose a unique chaotic whirlpool of heterogeneous humanity.