PhD programmes - Cognitive sciences
Doctoral programme
Cognitive and Brain Sciences
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Home > Admission > 2024 Topic-Specific Grants

2024 Topic-Specific Grants and Descriptions

12 topic specific grants and 1 "assegnista" position in 2024

1. Synaptic and trascriptomic architecture of cortical circuits (F. Rossi - 1 position)

Brain circuits are composed by a myriad of interconnected inhibitory and excitatory neuronal cell types, which differ in connectivity, morphology, biophysics, and gene expression. Understanding the functional relevance of each of these circuit elements is fundamental problem in neuroscience. Are there genetically defined neuronal ensembles devoted to specific sensory, motor or cognitive functions? Is the function of each neural type conserved or flexibly repurposed across different brain areas? To what extent the properties of a neuron are plastic, shaped by development and learning, or statically defined by gene expression? 
To address these questions, this project will characterize the function large populations of cortical neurons in vivo, across cortical layers and brain areas, both during spontaneous behaviors (navigation, sleep) or during learning of adaptive visual tasks. To record and perturb the activity, we will leverage large scale two-photon calcium imaging, optogenetics, and targeted photoablation. Then, to classify the cell types, the project will pioneer and establish novel spatial transcriptomic methods to measure gene expression in situ and match it to the neurons recorded in vivo.
To complete this project, we are looking for candidates with an MSc in neuroscience, physics, engineering, or any STEM discipline to build our laboratory. Hands-on training in experimental neuroscience or molecular biology, and/or familiarity with programming (e.g. Python, Matlab), will be highly valued. Successful candidates will join a growing diverse, multidisciplinary and collegial group, will help build our new lab, and will be offered direct training, supervision and mentorship from the principal investigator. Additional training in spatial transcriptomics will be offered by our collaborators at University College London (UK) and INMED (Marseille). 
For more details, please see the lab webpage: https://www.rossilab.iit.it
Selected References:
Rossi, L. F., Harris, K. D. & Carandini, M. Spatial connectivity matches direction
selectivity in visual cortex. Nature, 2020

Bugeon, S., Duffield, J., Dipoppa, M. et al. A transcriptomic axis predicts state modulation of cortical interneurons. Nature, 2022

Rossi, L. F., Wykes, R. C., Kullmann, D. M. & Carandini, M. Focal cortical seizures
start as standing waves and propagate respecting homotopic connectivity. Nat Commun
2017.

Ye Z, Shelton AM, Shaker JR, Boussard J, Colonell J, Birman D, Manavi S, Chen S, Windolf C, Hurwitz C, Namima T, Pedraja F, Weiss S, Raducanu B, Ness TV, Jia X, Mastroberardino G, Rossi LF, Carandini M, Häusser M, Einevoll GT, Laurent G, Sawtell NB, Bair W, Pasupathy A, Lopez CM, Dutta B, Paninski L, Siegle JH, Koch C, Olsen SR, Harris TD, Steinmetz NA. Ultra-high density electrodes improve detection, yield, and cell type identification in neuronal recordings. bioRxiv, 2024

Pachitariu, M. et al. Suite2p beyond 10,000 neurons with standard two-photon
microscopy. biorXiv, 2016.

Carandini, M. et al. Imaging the awake visual cortex with a genetically encoded voltage
indicator. J Neurosci 2015.

Brondi, M., Sato, S. S., Rossi, L. F., Ferrara, S. & Ratto, G. M. Finding a Needle in a
Haystack: Identification of EGFP Tagged Neurons during Calcium Imaging by Means
of Two-Photon Spectral Separation. Front Mol Neurosci, 2012

Rossi, L. F., Kullmann, D. M. & Wykes, R. C. The Enlightened Brain: Novel Imaging
Methods Focus on Epileptic Networks at Multiple Scales. Front Cell Neurosci 2018.
 

2. Investigating predictive representations with MEG-based dynamic RSA (M. Wurm - 1 position)

Description TBA

3. Neuromodulatory control of brain functional activity in the mouse (A. Gozzi - 1 position)

Description TBA

4. Computational Approaches for Mapping Brain Network Activity in the Mouse (A. Gozzi - 1 position)

Description TBA

5. Novel paradigms for mapping brain network activity in the mouse (A. Gozzi - 1 position)

Description TBA

6.-7. Neuroimaging and electrophysiological biomarkers behind autisms distinguished by disability versus difference over development (M. Lombardo - 2 positions)

The Laboratory of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at IIT (IIT-LAND), directed by Dr. Michael Lombardo, at the Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Rovereto, invites applications for 2 PhD scholarships to investigate early biomarkers behind autism subtypes. Our research aims to understand how autism may be split into distinctive types of autisms, characterized by distinctive phenotypic presentation, underlying neurobiological mechanisms, and differential responses to treatment. To answer these types of questions, we use a combination of approaches from neuroimaging (EEG, MRI), cognitive and computational neuroscience, and data science. Our work is primarily focused on human patients (i.e. autistic children), but we also collaborate with other groups on larger cross-cutting translational work focused on elucidating biological mechanisms in model systems. For more info, see:  https://land.iit.it.

We have 2 PhD positions focused on identifying biomarkers for different clinically and behaviorally distinctive subtypes of autism. The work heavily focuses on methodologies such as eye tracking, EEG, and MRI/fMRI. The datasets we work with are a combination of large publicly available datasets, datasets from international collaborators, as well as data coming from ongoing experiments run within IIT-LAND. The work will heavily rely on new or past stratification models of neural and phenotypically distinctive autism subtypes. The two positions are fully-funded off of an ERC Consolidator Grant to Dr. Michael Lombardo.

We are looking for talented and highly motivated individuals that can build on prior skill sets or knowledge within the core areas of our research - EEG, eye tracking, neuroimaging (MRI, fMRI), data science, and autism. Advanced understanding and conceptual thinking with regards to statistics and big data analysis is a plus, as is requisite computational and programming skills (e.g., R, Python, MATLAB) to implement such ideas. Ability to speak both Italian and English is highly prioritized. Good communication skills and ability to work within larger groups is also emphasized. Strong passion/desire to pursue an academic career focusing on neurodevelopmental disorders like autism is also a key characteristic we are looking for, as is an existing strong grasp of the literature on autism and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Successful candidates will join a growing diverse, multidisciplinary and collegial group, and will be offered direct training, supervision and mentorship from the principal investigator and other senior members of the lab. The work also offers up the possibility of working within a larger international context, as nearly all of the work we do on this topic is done with collaborations from colleagues in Europe and the USA. The position is a four-year scholarship in the international doctoral school in Cognitive and Brain Sciences (CIMEC) at the University of Trento. Candidates will join a diverse cohort of PhD students and receive multi-disciplinary training at the interface of computational, experimental and cognitive neuroscience across humans and animal models.

The IIT-CNCS in Rovereto is actively expanding its infrastructure for systems level neuroscience research. Our center is located in Trentino, a region of Northern Italy nested within the Dolomite mountains, offering easy access to spectacular natural beauty and mountaineering, vibrant culture and exceptional quality of life (https://www.iit.it/it-IT/cncs-unitn/).

Candidates can informally contact Dr Michael Lombardo (michael.lombardo [at] iit.it) to gather more information about the position, the project, the application procedure and the selection process.

8. Exploring the Impact of Environmental Factors on Human Perception and Cognitive Processes (M. Zampini - 1 position)

Description TBA

9. Structuring knowledge in brains and machines: The interplay between memory, attention and consciousness (R. Bottini - 1 position)

Description TBA

10. The neurophysiology of appetitive behavior (G. Iurilli - 1 position)

Description TBA

11. Cognition in archer fish (G. Vallortigara - 1 position)

The candidate will be involved in a research program focused on the use of archer fish as animal models to investigate cognitive abilities, with particular reference to cognition of quantity (both discrete, countable, and continuous) and the possibility to learn to associate it with arbitrary symbols. The studies are planned to be mainly behavioural, though development of neurobiological assays is foreseen. Experience in research on cognitive abilities in animals, and especially in fish (ideally in archer fish) would be appreciated.

Supervisor: Giorgio Vallortigara

12. Behaviour, cognition, and welfare in Apis mellifera (Elisa Frasnelli, Albrecht Haase - 1 position)

Honeybees are fundamental for our ecosystem, but they are more and more subjected to multiple environmental stressors such as bacteria, viruses but also temperature, humidity, nutrients availability, and pesticides, all exacerbated by climate change. To improve the welfare of Apis mellifera we need to better understand its neurobiology and to study the interactions with the environments in order to promote a more resilient beekeeping. This project aims at understanding the effect of the environmental stressors identified above on honeybees’ behaviour and cognitive abilities also through the alteration of their microbiota. This research will include behavioural studies (in the laboratory and in the field), electrophysiological measurements and neuroimaging to investigate the immunity, the wellness, the nutrition, and the resistance of Apis mellifera in different environmental scenarios that characterize the climate change we are going through.

Supervisors: Elisa Frasnelli and Albrecht Haase. Corresponding research areas: Animal Cognition, Animal Behaviour, Pollinators, Honeybee, Brain sciences, Neuroimaging, Environmental stress, Microbiota, Climate change

The contribution of active movements of the sound source in spatial hearing for cochlear implant users (Francesco Pavani - 1 "assegnista")

Spatial hearing is critical for orientation in space and navigation. It furthermore helps to selectively direct attention to relevant sound cues in complex acoustic situations. The loss of spatial hearing as a result of deafness not only leads to a reduced quality of life, but also contributes to potential danger in everyday situations. The PhD project is part of the multidisciplinary MSCA Doctoral Network 'CherISH', Cochlear Implants and Spatial Hearing (CORDIS; CherISH website), that combines approaches from medicine, biomedical engineering and psychology to optimally  improve the restoration of hearing after deafness by combining next generation’s cochlear implant (CI) technology with innovative rehabilitation approaches. The PhD project DC7, will examine to what extent and under which neurocognitive principles acting upon sounds and acting to  move sounds in space can change perceptual and meta-cognitive experiences of sound position. In addition, you will study how this active approach to spatial hearing could be exploited when aiming to re-learn or consolidate sound localization skills, especially in cochlear implant users.  The DC (Doctoral Candidate) will be contractually employed for 48 months by University of Trento (36 months paid by the CherISH project, and 12 months paid by the University of Trento) and will be covered under the Italian social security scheme. This research will be carried out as a doctoral candidate within the PhD programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Therefore, in addition to their individual scientific projects, the successful candidate will benefit from further continuing education, which includes a variety of training modules, as well as  courses on transferable skills and active participation in workshops and Conferences. Secondment periods are anticipated.

Supervisor: Francesco Pavani. Corresponding research areas: Attention, Brain sciences, Cochlear implants, Cognitive processes, Deafness, Experimental psychology, Multisensory perception, Neuroplasticity, Neuropsychology, Psychology, Spatial perception, Spatial representation