Marilena Griguoli

Postdoc at Universite de Bordeaux

Marilena Griguoli

Study, experiments… and discovery. At SISSA the basic research can lead to something interesting and unexpected. This is the case of Marilena Griguoli, who started her PhD at the end of 2006 to explore the mysteries of the brain.

After the degree in Biology at the Sapienza University of Rome, she focused her interests on electrophysiology, the study of the electrical properties of excitable cells, including neurons.

Her journey at SISSA began under the guide of Professor Enrico Cherubini facing a challenging research line: analysing the effects of nicotine on neuronal behavior.

In the brain current flows across ionic channels, present on the neuronal membranes, play a key role in shaping neuron’s behavior. Nicotine, by binding ionic channels distributed in different brain regions, can modulate neuronal activity. In particular, the active element of tobacco alters  the ability of single neurons to integrate and process information. Such alterations could have negative consequences on our concentration capability. This was the unexpected result of Cherubini’s lab, where Marilena Griguoli gave a significant contribution.

She studied the interneurons, local circuit neurons, which releaseγ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the adult brain. GABA plays an important role in regulating neuronal excitability in the nervous system.

During her PhD Marilena studied interneurons of the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory processes. She demonstrated that the excitability of a particular class of hippocampal interneurons called O-LM (Oriens-Lacunosum Moleculare) is reduced by doses of nicotine similar to those contained in the blood of a medium smoker.

Therefore nicotine can inhibit ion channels involved in the maintenance of O-LM excitability: a previously unknown mechanism, which could have negative consequences on neuronal processing and definitely on our cognitive functions.

These results opened a new important research line, which Marilena is following at the University of Bordeaux, where she is currently holding a postdoc position. Here she is broadening her background learning the use of advanced technologies such as optogenetic. This technique combines genetic and optical methods to control the activity of specific neurons. Using optogenetic approach neurons can be activated by light with high spatial and temporal resolution.

The next step? Understanding the neuromodulation of whole neuronal circuits applying the spirit learnt at SISSA, without keeping out any possible unexpected development of this fascinating research field.


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