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Research area: Our main research interests are on ion channels in neuronal and glial cells of the brain, their role in normal neuron and glia functions, and disorders resulting from their malfunctioning. Ion channels are transmembrane proteins with a central pore for controlled passage of ions. Ion channels occupy a special place in the neuronal and glial cells being the structures by which signals are sent across nerves. The link between the basic understanding of ion channel function and clinical medicine has been the discovery of human disease linked to mutations in genes coding for ion channels. Investigation of disorders (due to mutations; channelopathies) of ion channels leading to several genetic forms of epilepsy, chronic pain, and migraine have given crucial insights into molecular mechanisms, pathogenesis, and therapeutic approaches to complex neurological disorders. More recently certain forms of cancers, including glioblastoma, that witness a marked disregulation of specific ion channels critical for tumor aggressiveness are being included in the group of channelopathies. The group is also involved in studying neurogeneis in the brain , and the beneficial role of natural compounds (nutraceutical; mainly germ sprouts) in preventing human disorders and aging.

Specific research objectives

Channelopathies in human brain disorders and tumor growth. Using various electrophysiological approaches (patch clamp, oocyte expression system) we aim to uncover the defective molecular and submolecular mechanisms of ion channels dysfunction (channelopathy), and the link with specific human brain diseases (epilepsy, migraine, ataxia). We also investigate the role of expression-disregulated ion channels (Cl- and Ca2+-activated K+ channels) on glioblastoma cells migration. Franciolini, Catacuzzeno, Sforna, Cenciarini, Belia, Castigli.

Ion channels and tumor angiogenesis. Using similar approaches, together with biochemical and molecular biological methods, we study the role of expression-disregulated Ca2+-activated K+ channels of intermediate conductance on glioblastoma cells angiogenesis. Ca2+ homeostasis and its modulation by oxidative stress are investigated in varying biological models. Franciolini, Fioretti, Caramia, Belia, Castigli.

Neurogenesis. Immunohistochemical and neuroanatomical approaches will be applied to investigate the functional relevance of adult neurogenesis and its underlaying molecular mechanisms. Secca.

Natural antioxidants: biological activity and characterization. We study the biological activity (cell growth, antinflammatory activity, protection of biological macromolecules from oxidative damage, autophagy) of sprouted seed extracts (mainly from cereals). These extracts are purified using biochemical techniques, HPLC, mass spectrometry to characterize them. From our results, a universitary spinoff company was born in 2009. This has allowed, in absence of other funding, to continue the basic and applied research in this field. Marsili.

Nanoneurotoxicology. Nanotoxicity of both engineered and unintentionally produced nanoparticles is investigated in order to assess their contribution to neurodegenerative disease development. To this purpose, human neural cells are used as experimental model, and cell biology as well as molecular biology approaches are applied. Micheli, Bova.

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