My research focuses on how emotionally charged events (e.g., traumatic experiences or social interactions) influence behaviour, and I specialize in identifying the neuronal mechanisms that mediate this influence.
During my master thesis in Experimental Psychology at the University of Florence (Italy) and internship at NIH (Bethesda, MD), by leveraging the potential of animal models, I investigated the effect of environmental and genetic factors on anxiety-related phenotypes and acquisition of traumatic memories,.
Interested in a mechanistic explanation of emotional behaviors I then pursued a PhD in Neuroscience at the Medical University of Innsbruck (Austria), under the supervision of Prof. Francesco Ferraguti. There, I delved into the synaptic mechanism, cellular components, and connectivity within the basolateral amygdala (BLA), hub brain region for emotion regulation. During this period I had the opportunity to sped one year in the laboratory of Andreas Lüthi at the FMI (Basel) where I could learn the in vivo optogenetics technique to apply for my PhD project. Using a combination of anatomical tracing, optogenetics and calcium imaging, in our work we show the necessity of specialized neuronal types (so-called VIP interneurons) in the BLA for the formation of fear memories.
This project inspired me to transpose my interest on how danger is detected through environmental cues to its social transmission across individuals via shared emotional states. As the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others is a fundamental component of social interaction, unravelling its circuitry and cellular elements constitutes a step towards understanding what makes us “social” and how this circuitry can become disfunctional in social disorders.
Therefore, to integrate my expertise in systems neuroscience with a solid theoretical and experimental background in social neuroscience across species, in January 2020 I joined the Social Brain Lab.
Here, using retrograde tracing techniques and genetic labelling in rodents, I investigate the connectivity of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that are activated by witnessing others undergoing painful experiences and, using in vivo optogenetics, I explore which of these connections are necessary for emotional contagion to occur.