Dr Liliana Minichiello

Reader in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
• Define molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity, learning and memory
• Understanding the molecular basis of Neurodegeneration leading to age-dependent cognitive decline
• Identifying the contribution of specific neuronal subtypes or networks to animal behavior and neurological conditions
• Understanding the mechanisms underlying neuronal diversification with the goal of repairing damage caused by the neuronal dysfunction and degeneration

Research summary

Dr Liliana Minichiello

Restoration of neuronal functions requires that we first understand how nerve cells function at the cellular and molecular level, and how they work together in complex neural networks to facilitate specific behavioural functions.

Therefore, our main research interest has long been to define molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity, learning and memory. Key achievements include the genetic demonstration that the neurotrophin receptor TrkB is a potent regulator of hippocampal synaptic plasticity via activation of pathway/s through its PLCγ-site; that the molecular pathways required for learning are also those generating long-term potentiation (LTP, which is considered to be the mechanism for acquisition and storage of information by synapses in the brain) when measured directly on the relevant circuit of a learning animal; that TrkB modulates specific phases of fear learning and amygdalar synaptic plasticity by specific docking sites.

In order to improve our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying age-related cognitive decline one current main aim is the molecular dissection of cellular pathway/s involved in age-dependent neurodegeneration process via a combination of state of the art technologies including spatially restricted genetic manipulation, gene expression analysis, ChIP-sequencing, and intracellular signalling and protein chemistry integrated with physiological readouts such as behaviour, histology and imaging.

Moreover, very little has been achieved so far regarding the specific functions of different inhibitory neuronal subtypes in the living animal. Therefore, we aim to determine the role of distinct subtypes of inhibitory neurons in functional brain circuits by using combinatorial approaches and defined genetic mouse models.

We believe that by understanding how specific neuronal subtypes and specific molecules contribute to normal animal behavior and diseased neurological conditions will help to develop better therapies and treatments

Biography

Dr. Liliana Minichiello, is a Reader in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, and has joined the Department of Pharmacology in October 2012. She received a Laurea in Biological Sciences from the University of Naples, Federico II, Italy and then went on for her graduate studies in Molecular Biology first at the University of Naples, Federico II, Italy (group of Prof Arturo Leone), and then at The National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, (MD) USA (group of Dr Pier Paolo Di Fiore). This was followed by a few years spent at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, for her postdoctoral training (group of Dr Rüdiger Klein), where she worked on the biological functions of neurotrophin receptor tyrosine kinases (Trks) in the mouse nervous system by generation and analysis of genetic mouse models. She then became the leader of a group at the EMBL Mouse Biology Unit in Monterotondo, Rome, Italy (2000-09). She was then appointed as Reader and Deputy Director of the Centre for Neuroregeneration at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, moving to Oxford in 2012.

Dr Minichiello is presently a visiting scientist at the Mouse Biology Unit, EMBL-Monterotondo, Rome, Italy. She has held a visiting professorship at the Lund Stem Cell Center, Lund University, Lund, Sweden (2005-2010). She has been awarded prestigious fellowship for her postdoctoral studies such as EMBO long-term fellowship, and has organized and taught on many EMBO courses in the past few years.

Collaborators

  • Barbara Zonta, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oxford
  • Chinnavuth Vatanashevanopakorn, PhD Student,
  • Vasileios Eftychidis, PhD Student,
  • Jacqui Horn, Research Assistant, University of Oxford

Publications