Sensory systems allow all organisms to receive information from the external world and play an essential role in species survival and reproduction, as well as in well-being. It is therefore very important to be able to treat diseases that affect sensory signaling, such those associated with disorders in vision, balance, hearing, taste and smell. This goal requires a precise understanding of how sensory signaling occurs at a molecular and cellular level both in health and in disease conditions.

The present proposal on sensory systems, from visual photoreceptors to olfactory receptor cells and vestibular cells originated from two fundamental observations: first, during evolution similar biological principles have directed transduction and processing in different sensory systems and second, the integration of different sensory modalities is at the basis of our consciousness and ability to survive in hostile environments. These observations justify the proposed integrated approach to sensory systems and determine the relevance of the project. The present proposal is organized in the three Workpackages, analyzing molecular and functional properties of sensory receptor cells (WP1), the development and plasticity of sensory pathways (WP2) and disorders of sensory functions (WP3). In WP1 we will analyze molecular and functional properties of sensory receptors and cells involved in visual, vestibular, olfactory, and taste systems. A common theme of WP1 is the characterization of Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels involved in the transduction pathways of several sensory receptor cells. In WP2 we will analyse development and plasticity in sensory systems, the role of the cytoskeleton and biological changes occurring during aging. WP2 will be particularly focused on hot topics as the neurogenic processes occurring in the olfactory bulb in the adulthood. In WP3 we will exploit the existence of mouse models of disorders of sensory functions to explore their biology. The major issue of this WP includes the development of rescue therapies for two socially relevant visual diseases as Retinitis Pigmentosa and Aged-related Macular Degeneration. The proposed project will use state of the art and cutting-edge experimental methodologies such as: molecular biology, immunocytochemistry, confocal microscopy, electron microscopy, in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology, calcium imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, behavioral tests. The present proposal will coordinate and integrate activities of ten Italian Research Units, all having an excellent scientific record on sensory system research andentertaining fruitful collaborations with distinguished scientists from prestigious Institutions in Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Spain, UK, as well as outside Europe: Chile and USA. Most collaborations will be based on the exchange between Research Units of young investigators (PhD students and post-docs), but also encouraging international secondments.


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