In order to successfully navigate and survive the environment most animals must learn to modify their behavior according to past experiences. This process of learning is mediated by the brain, which controls not only how animals sense their surroundings but also how they respond to changes (both positive and negative). To orchestrate the many different functions of the brain, neurons rely on exquisite communication mechanisms via cellular junctions called synapses.
We are interested in understanding how synapses work, not only in physiological conditions but also in adverse or stressful environments. The brain is central in coordinating the response to stress, and at the same time, a very sensitive target when such response is not controlled. In fact, in humans stress is associated with the onset and exacerbation of a number of brain disorders, including anxiety, depression, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.
We will use a combination of techniques, including electrophysiology, viral genetic manipulation, optogenetics and behavior in order to characterize synaptic function in animal models (rodents).
Current interest in the lab include:
1. Modulation of hippocampal function in conditions of chronic stress. The hippocampus is one of the brain regions directly involved in learning and memory formation. It is also one of the most sensitive areas to stress. We will study the effects of chronic and acute stress in specific hippocampal subfields.
2. Early life stress and hippocampus. It is a well-documented fact that adverse conditions during early development can cause dramatic changes in the brain however the precise mechanism involved are far from clear. We will use a known paradigm for early stress (maternal deprivation) in order to fully characterize changes in synaptic function in the hippocampus of adult rodents exposed to maternal deprivation.
3. The obese brain. A number of recent findings have shown how signals coming from the gut microbiota can actually modulate hormone systems and the brain. Even though this communication is essential to maintain the health of the host, it has recently been associated with a number of diseases, including obesity and even neurodevelopmental disorders. We will use a rodent model of obesity and will study brain function, both from a behavioral and cellular perspective.