Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


Maurizio De Pittà, the researcher.
Hugues Berry, the scientist in charge at INRIA (return institution).
Nicolas Brunel, the scientist in charge at The University of Chicago (outgoing host institution).

The long-term goal of the project PIOF-GA-2012-331486 “Neuron-Astro-Nets” is to seek theoretical understanding of the mechanisms that control and regulate the activity of neuron-astrocyte networks with emphasis on the regulation of synaptic transmission mediated by astrocytes. To unravel the complexity of neuron-astrocyte interactions, the project foresees a bottom-up multilevel approach to characterize the dynamics of (1) individual synapses modulated by an astrocyte; (2) synaptic ensembles within the same astrocytic domain; (3) mixed neuron-astrocyte networks where synaptic contacts between neurons are spatially and temporally modulated by astrocyte signaling.

The project constitutes of an outgoing phase of two years (24 months) and a return phase of one year (12 months). At present, the return phase has started by June 2016 with the outgoing phase satisfactorily ending with fulfillment of the planned objectives of the original proposal. These objectives were several fold, including training objectives, research goals, publishable deliverables, and networking aims.

Training objectives focused on the acquisition by the researcher of analytical techniques for mean field analysis and stability analysis of neural networks out of which to develop the theory for mixed neuron-glia networks. Pursuit of these objectives was systematically done by auditing of graduate courses by the researcher at the Dep. of Statistics at the University of Chicago in Computational Neuroscience (modules I, II) held by prof. Nicolas Brunel, as well as module II of Stochastic Simulations by prof. Jonathan Weare.

Two main research goals set during the outgoing period included (1) the development of a biophysical modeling framework to simulate and study the effect of astrocyte-mediated modulation of synaptic transmission on synaptic plasticity; and (2) developing the core theory of neuron-glia networks in an analytically tractable model of such networks. Of these two goals, only the first one contemplated the production of deliverables by the time of this report which indeed produced two publications [1,2]. Deliverables related to the study of neuron-glia networks instead are expected by the end of the return phase.

Networking objectives during the outgoing phases consisted in familiarizing with the research environment at the University of Chicago and around, as well as establish contacts whenever possible for future collaborations in the US. These objectives have been fully accomplished, insofar as the researcher was able to ideally integrate himself within the Neuroscience cluster of UChicago, regularly and actively participating at Brunel’s weekly Journal Club meetings and attending bi-weekly Institutional seminars in Computational Neuroscience and Neurobiology. The researcher also co-founded and organized monthly postdoc seminars in Neuroscience for two years, and co-organized by October 2015, monthly social networking events hosted by the Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior at the University of Chicago.

The published biophysical model of synaptic transmission [1] and plasticity [2] represented the first model of such kind to address regulation of short-term plasticity and spike-timing–dependent plasticity by astrocytes in the brain. Since their early appearance starting in April 2015, these works together already counts 25 citations. The code involved in the simulation is publicly available in order to promote diffusion and popularization. Results have been presented by the researcher at several venues, both at invited lectures as well as at international conferences.
[1] De Pittà M., Brunel N., Modulation of synaptic plasticity by glutamatergic gliotransmission: A modeling study. Neural Plasticity(2016); Article ID 7607924. DOI: 10.1155/2016/7607924

[2] De Pittà M., Brunel N. and Volterra A. Astrocytes: orchestrating synaptic plasticity? Neuroscience (2016) 323:43. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.04.001

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