Research

Research of my group focuses on the mechanisms and physiological consequences of the astrocyte-neuron signaling, aiming to understand its role in physiological and
pathological aspects of synaptic physiology and brain function.
Astrocytes, classically considered as supportive cells for neurons without a direct role in brain information processing, are emerging as relevant elements in brain physiology through their ability to regulate neuronal and synaptic activity. We are studying how astrocytes respond to neuronal activity, how they control neuronal activity and synaptic transmission and plasticity, and how they are involved in neural network function to determine animal behavior.

Our previous work provided the first demonstration of regulation of synaptic
transmission by astrocytes and the definition of the Tripartite Synapse concept, which represents a novel view of synaptic physiology, in which astrocytes are integral functional elements of synapses by exchanging information signals
with neurons.

Our recent contributions include: demonstration that astrocytes display integrative properties for synaptic information processing (J Neurosci 2002, 2005); demonstration of
astrocyte regulation of hippocampal synaptic transmission at single synapses, and
demonstration that astrocytes induce synaptic plasticity (Science 2007); first description of astrocyte involvement in endocannabinoid signaling (Neuron 2008); elucidation of endocannabinoid effects on astrocytes and their consequences on synaptic transmission (Neuron 2010); first design of artificial AstroNeuronal networks a novel concept in artificial intelligence, and demonstration that artificial astrocytes improve network performance (Plos One 2011); demonstration of astrocyte-mediated hippocampal synaptic plasticity in vivo (PloS Biol 2012); demonstration of astrocyte-neuron signaling in human brain tissue (Cereb Cortex 2013); demonstration of structural and functional plasticity between astrocyte processes and dendritic spines (J Neurosci 2014); demonstration of lateral synaptic plasticity mediated by endocannabinoids through astrocyte signaling
(Cereb Cortex 2014); demonstration of the existence of functional astro-neuronal
networks that comprise subpopulations of astrocytes, neurons, and synapses (Science 2015); demonstration of astrocyte-neuron interaction in the ageing brain (Glia 2016); demonstration of astrocyte contribution to hippocampal rhythmic activity (eLife 2016); demonstration that astrocyte activity controls amygdala synaptic function and influences amygdala-associated animal behavior (Nature Neuroscience 2017); demonstration that neuronal activity determines distinct gliotransmitter release from single astrocyte (eLife 2018); demonstration that opioids activate astrocytes and stimulate gliotransmission in the nucleus accumbens (Cells 2019); demonstration that astrocytes mediate the synaptic effects of dopamine and amphetamine in the nucleus accumbens (Neuron 2020); demonstration that astrocytes mediate LTD in corticostriatal synapses (J Neurosci 2020).
Our research work also includes studies on the mechanisms of cellular and synaptic alterations in neurodegenerative diseases and aging (Glia 2017; J Neurosci 2018; Acta Neuropathol 2019).

We are currently investigating the cellular mechanisms and physio-pathological
consequences of astrocyte-neuron interactions in different brain areas to test the working hypothesis that brain function results from the operation of AstroNeuronal networks established by the coordinated activity of astrocytes and neurons. We are also interested in deciphering the contribution of the altered function of Tripartite Synapses and AstroNeuronal networks to brain diseases.