Head of Behavioral Core
Principal Investigator, Neuropsychopharmacology Lab, Institute of Biochemistry and Cellular Biology, National Research Council, Italy
Elvira De Leonibus graduated in Developmental Psychology and did her PhD in Psychobiology and Psychopharmacology at “La Sapienza”, Rome. She then moved to the Catholic University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands) for a post-doctoral position. Her main research interest has been the neurobiology of learning and memory in normal and pathological conditions. In 2007, she joined the TIGEM with a semi-independent research appointment to contribute her expertise in pre-clinical research to the discovery of novel genetic and pharmacological therapeutic approaches for human genetic disorders. Since 2010, she has held a full appointment as Group Leader of the Neuropsychopharmacology lab at National Research Council (CNR). From 2014, this role has been held with a joint appointment as a member of the TIGEM Faculty.
Supported by grants from the American Alzheimer Association, San Filippo Foundations, MPS Society, Cure SanFilippo etc, she has identified early cognitive deficits in Parkinson’ disease, ageing, and Alzheimer’ disease regulated by glutamate-dopamine interaction in cortical and subcortical regions. More recently, her work has identified altered dopamine signalling responsible for early behavioural deficits in the lysosomal storage disorders, mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIA and II. Her work is also currently focused on the neurobiology and neuropharmacology of sex-differences in normal cognitive functions and in neurodegenerative disorders. To reach these aims her research combines in vivo (optogenetics, chemogenetics, electrophysiology, pharmacology) and in vitro (primary neuronal cultures, reprogrammed neurons etc) innovative approaches.
Targeting Early disease mechanisms in neurodegenerative disorders
The identification of early cognitive and emotional deficits in animal models of age-related neurodegenerative disorders (Ageing, Alzheimer’ disease and Parkinson’ disease) focusing on the interaction between glutamate-dopamine transmission and its modulation by autophagy.
The identification of early behavioural and synaptic changes in lysosomal storage disorders with altered signalling of heparan sulfate, focusing on dopamine signalling.
The neurobiology of memory capacity
We are currently investigating a little-explored aspect of memory processes, which is the neurobiology of memory load capacity, i.e., the number of items that a subject can remember for a short time interval, in normal and pathological conditions. We have developed novel behavioural tasks to study MC in rodents and demonstrated that mice have a limited MC of about 6 objects and that high memory load processing requires post-translational modification of glutamate receptors in the hippocampus. We recently showed that MC is impaired in early ageing and can be rescued by autophagy enhancers. Through a combination of behavioural, genetic, pharmacological and molecular approaches we are providing novel insights into (i) the role of specific brain regions and dopamine-regulated molecular pathways in supporting memory load capacity, (ii) disease mechanisms leading to memory capacity dysfunctions in schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders and (iii) sex-differences in memory capacity.
Elvira De Leonibus is the Head of the Behavioral Core Facility, aiming at identifying abnormal behaviors in animal models that may be associated with gene deletions or mutations pertaining to our human genetic diseases of interest
- Thalamo-hippocampal pathway regulates incidental memory capacity in mice. Nature Commun, 2022
- Altered heparan sulfate metabolism during development triggers dopamine-dependent autistic-behaviours in models of lysosomal storage disorders. Nature Communications, 2021
- Mechanisms by which autophagy regulates memory capacity in ageing. Aging Cell, 2020
- α-synuclein overexpression in the retina leads to degeneration of dopamine amacrine cells impairing vision. Scientific Reports, 2020
- Motor learning and metaplasticity in striatal neurons: relevance for Parkinson's disease. Brain, 2018
Complete List of Published Work in MyBibliography
My group aims to identify early behavioural and disease mechanisms in animal models of complex human disorders, with the ultimate goal of discovering and testing novel therapeutic strategies to manage them.