Professor Riccardo Brambilla
Professor, Neuroscience Degree Co-ordinator
I am a leading figure in the emerging field of Molecular and Cellular Cognition. Council Member of the Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society (MCCS; www.molcellcog.org) I am also Founding President of the sister organisation European Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society (EMCCS; http://emccs.org/) since 2008 part of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).
I have been working in the field of signal transduction since 1987 and in molecular neuroscience since 1993, being post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Ruediger Klein at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. In Heidelberg I learned mouse genetics techniques such as gene targeting and successfully applied them to the neurobiology of learning and memory. In particular I generated the Ras-GRF1 KO mouse strain that was the first published genetic model demonstrating a direct involvement of the Ras-ERK-CREB signalling cascade in behavioural plasticity (Brambilla et al, Nature, 1997, cited so far 339 times).
During the last 17 years as a group leader I have continued to work on the role of synaptic signalling in behavioural plasticity and demonstrated that ERK1 and Ras-GRF1 are essential for normal and abnormal behavioural plasticity in the striatum. In my seminal paper in 2002, I demonstrated that loss of ERK1 MAP kinase, a gene recently implicated in certain forms of autism, results in procedural learning improvements and in increased synaptic plasticity in the striatum (Mazzucchelli et al, 2002, Neuron, cited so far 288 times). This phenotype is likely to be due to an abnormal hyperactivation of the remaining ERK2 isoform, suggesting a potential mechanism for some autism spectrum disorders associated to deregulated cell signalling in the brain (Vantaggiato et al, 2006, J Biol, cited so far 131 times). In more recent years, I have published important works on the role of Ras-GRF1, a synaptic integrator of Ras-ERK signalling the basal ganglia, in pathological processes such as drug addiction and L-DOPA induced Dyskinesia (Fasano et al, 2009, Biol Psych, cited so far 50 times; Fasano et al, 2010, PNAS, cited so far 62 times, Cerovic et al, 2015 Biol Psych).
In recent years my laboratory has developed new molecular biology tools to modulate gene expression in the brain via lentiviral vectors and cell permeable peptides (CPP). In particular, I recently patented CPPs able to either block or potentiate Ras-ERK signalling in the brain and I will try to develop them into clinically relevant therapeutics for several neuropsychiatric disorders: Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and related disorders, including L-DOPA induced Dyskinesia (LID); Huntington’s Disease (HD); Mental Retardation Syndromes and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and drug addiction. More recently, I also started to use neurophysiological and optogenetic tools to investigate those brain functions.
Current directions of my academic research activities are:
- Understanding the molecular mechanisms and devising treatments for motor and cognitive plasticity disorders associated to Parkinson’s Disease pharmacotherapy (Dopamine Dysregulation Syndrome and L-DOPA induced Dyskinesia)
- Understanding the basic molecular mechanisms of neuronal cell survival and devising treatments for neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease)
- Developing cognitive enhancers for dementias
- Understanding the molecular mechanisms and devising treatments for neurodevelopmental disorders (Ras-MAPK syndromes and autism spectrum disorders)
As an important international recognition of my outstanding research activities, I have recently been appointed as Member of the Grant Panel LS5 “Neurosciences and Neurological Disorders” of the European Research Council (ERC), the most important funding body in Europe.
As president of EMCCS, I have been very active in promoting both scientific meetings and educational events worldwide. I organized so far six meetings as EMCCS-FENS satellites that were held in Lisbon 2004, Vienna 2006, Geneva 2008, Amsterdam 2010, Barcelona 2012 and Milan 2014, respectively. Importantly, I also organized the first MCCS Summer School in Molecular and Cellular Cognition (Venice, 1-6 July 2006) for which I received a grant from the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the Hertie Foundation and the second MCCS school, also in Venice (14-19 October 2010), which was sponsored by the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS), EMBO and Hertie Foundation. Also, I recently co-organised several symposia at the SfN meeting (2011), at the SiNAPSA meeting (2011), at the FENS-Forum (2012) and at the Haifa Forum on Learning and Memory (2012). In addition, in the last 10 years, I participated in a number of Workshops both in the US and in Europe, including the Fondation des Treilles, Conference on “ Learning and memory, from molecule to mind” (Les Arcs-Draguignan, France, 2003), the CSHL Banbury Conference on MAPK kinases (2004) and 9e Colloque de la Société des Neurosciences (Bordeaux, France, 2009). Finally, over the years, I co-organised several PhD Courses in Neuroscience and Molecular Biology including the PhD Course in Molecular Cell Biology, University of Milan (2006), two courses at the Karolinska Institute (2009 and 2012), and the Cardiff Wellcome Trust PhD Programme in Integrative Neuroscience (2010-2011).
My laboratory has received grants from the European Commission, the Italian Ministry of Research and Health, the Mariani Foundation for Neurological Diseases, the Telethon Foundation and the MJ Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and Parkinson’s UK. I served in the past as reviewer and rapporteur for both the NEST Programme and the FP6/FP7/Horizon 2020 of the European Commission as well as reviewer for a number of European Granting Agencies (The French, Spanish, Belgian and Dutch Ministries of Research; the British MRC; the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, The Israel Science Foundation) and Peer Review Journals in the field of Neuroscience (Neuron, Journal of Neuroscience, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Brain Research, TINS, Neurobiology of Disease, Biological Psychiatry, Neuroscience Methods, Journal of Neurochemistry, Neuroscience, PlosONE, Learning and Memory, Human Molecular Genetics). I have been Review Editor (2007-2010) and since 2010 Associate Editor of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. I am a member of the Editorial Board of Synapse (since 2011).
Honours and awards
- 1999: Human Frontier Science Program 10th Anniversary Award