Research Lines:

Neurostimulation and neuromodulation for the induction of plasticity phenomena: new cognitive and rehabilitative approaches

Identification of neurophysiological markers derived from cortical reactivity and connectivity

Study of behavioral and neural mechanisms implicated in healthy and pathological aging

Neurostimulation and neuromodulation for the induction of plasticity phenomena: new cognitive and rehabilitative approaches

Research coordinator: Carlo Miniussi

The objective of this line of research is to provide an updated overview of what we know about the theoretical models on neurostimulation and neuromodulation techniques (i.e., TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation and tES, transcranial electrical stimulation), in a more accurate and unitary way. In recent years, there has been a considerable progress in the practical use of these methodologies. Nevertheless, given the complexity and the non-linearity of the effects induced by these techniques, to date, this experimental effort has not been accompanied by a substantial understanding of their mechanisms of action. This understanding will allow us to highlight the basic theoretical (neurophysiological) aspects that must be considered in future researches in this field. We plan to systematically study how the modification of some parameters leads to a change in the outcomes, based on the theoretical “network-activity-dependent model”. The idea is that the activity of the system, the state of the network involved in the task and the stimulation parameters will produce a specific result. The final goal of this research line is to reach a more conscious application of these techniques, both for the study of the main brain functions and for improving the outcomes of rehabilitative approaches in patients with neurodegenerative or psychiatric diseases. This project is part of the main strands of the research carried out at the Saint John of God Clinical Research Centre, that aims to find alternative ways to overcome dementia and psychiatric disorders.

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Identification of neurophysiological markers derived from cortical reactivity and connectivity

Research coordinator: Marta Bortoletto

The main objective of this line of research is to identify specific neurophysiological markers that can be used for diagnosis and prognosis of different neurological and psychiatric brain diseases. This aim will be pursued through an integrated multimodal approach, combining, for example, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS, transcranial electrical stimulation, tES) with simultaneous recordings of electrical brain activity (electroencephalography, EEG). This approach allows to identify markers of cortical reactivity and connectivity. The identification of cortical markers (in terms of activity, responsiveness and cortical connectivity) will allow a greater understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these diseases. In particular, a further objective will be to assess whether it is possible to determine the surrogate indices of the application of cognitive rehabilitation techniques or noninvasive brain stimulation methods (TMS and tES) and to understand if and how they correlate with clinical improvements.

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Study of behavioral and neural mechanisms implicated in healthy and pathological aging

Research coordinator: Debora Brignani

The objective of this line of research is to understand the physiological bases of the cognitive changes that accompany both healthy and pathological aging. To achieve this goal, the brain activity will be explored by means of electroencephalogram (EEG) in the resting state or during a cognitive tasks. Specifically, we will focus on perceptual, attentional and memory functions. Particular attention will be paid also to the cortical plasticity, which represents the intrinsic ability of the brain to adapt to environmental changes. Because literature shows that cortical plasticity is partly preserved in healthy aging, this line of research will also investigate how the healthy elderly brain responds to the brain stimulation techniques, whose effects allow inferring the state of cortical plasticity. Brain stimulation techniques (TMS and tES), in fact, interact with the spontaneous activity of the brain in a completely non-invasive way, resulting in a modulation of the related behavior. In addition, we will investigate residual cortical plasticity in pathological aging, especially in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia or related conditions. The understanding of the physiological mechanisms subtending cognitive modulations and cortical plasticity in aging is extremely important in order to create protocols both to promote healthy aging and to support cognitive abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia.

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