Since the beginning of her career, Bianca was interested in understanding the neural basis of emotions. After obtaining a master degree in medical biotechnology at the University of Milan, where she studied oxytocin receptors, Bianca joined Cornelius Gross’ group at EMBL-Rome for her doctoral training. During her PhD, she investigated how the brain processes innate fear. Using chemogenetic manipulations she discovered that social and predator fear, two evolutionarily conserved and highly ethologically relevant stimuli, are not mediated by classic amygdalar fear circuits, but depend instead on distinct hypothalamic networks. Interestingly, this study revealed that fear is processed by separate circuits depending on the nature of the threat.
For her postdoctoral research she decided to move to a more translational aspect of basic neuroscience and investigated how long-lasting fear memories can be attenuated. She joined Johannes Gräff’s group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) with an EMBO postdoctoral fellowship. There, she used chemogenetics, optogenetics, functional connectivity analysis, calcium imaging and viral tracing and uncovered a thalamo-amygdalar circuit mediating attenuation of remote (i.e. 30 days old) but not recent (i.e. 1 day old) fear memories.
Since February 2021, Bianca is a principal investigator at the Institute of Neuroscience of the National Research Council of Italy.
How do animals integrate new information to update previously encoded memories? What happens when this process is impaired?
The capacity to adapt to a dynamic environment is a fundamental ability for survival. For this, animals need to constantly integrate new information, update their representation of the world and adjust their behavior accordingly. A fundamental aspect of this process is the capacity to update previously encoded memories.
My lab combines whole-brain functional connectivity analysis with in vivo fiber photometry and closed-loop optogenetics to unravel how intense emotional memories can be attenuated. A particular focus is put on the contribution of hub structures in the midline thalamus that orchestrate the activity of distributed memory circuits in an integrated manner. In addition, we study pathological alterations within these thalamo-centered circuits in mouse models of fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Using a similar array of cutting-edge techniques, we aim at identifying novel strategies to revert these circuit alterations and open the path for novel therapeutical interventions.