Affiliated to research
Sardinian by birth, I got a master in Neuropsychopharmacology from the University of Cagliari. I then left my sunny city and ventured at the Karolinska Institutet and the NIH in Washington, DC to pursue my graduate education in a joint PhD program. I missed the sun and warmth of Cagliari but fully embraced the opportunities that Stockholm and KI had to offer. Besides spending most of my time at the ephys rig, I had the chance to engage in high quality courses, seminars with international speakers and neuroscience retreats. The opportunity to meet lots of researchers with different interests and goals greatly helped me to understand the kind of scientist I want to be. The working culture (and infrastructure) at KI and in Sweden is difficult to match anywhere else in the world. Outside of the lab I enjoyed discovering Stockholm: a beautiful city to walk in, with great outdoors nearby- most of them served by public transportation, and a rich cultural life.
The basal ganglia are known for their role in controlling movement and decision making. I'm interested in understanding how movement and decision making signals integrated in the striatum are transformed into output signals by the basal ganglia. I combine pharmacology, patch-clamp electrophysiology, circuit mapping and behavior to understand the synaptic organization of the substantia nigra reticulata (SNr), the main basal ganglia output in rodents.
First, I study the synapses onto SNr neurons in wild type mice to gain basic informations about (1) their properties, e.g. focusing on ionotropic receptors (NMDA receptors) and G-protein-coupled-receptors (CB1 and GABAB), and (2) their organization, e.g. using optogenetics/ circuit mapping to study how distinct subpopulations of SNr neurons are connected within the basal ganglia. Second, I study how the synapses onto SNr neurons are altered in mouse models of Parkinson's disease (Chergui lab) or chronic alcohol exposure (Lovinger lab). The combination of circuit mapping and pharmacology allows me to ask if a given synapse is altered in a diseased state and what is driving that alteration. In my first publication (Sitzia et al., 2020) I found that an altered NMDA receptor signaling in the SNr contributes to motor dysfunctions in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease.
Second, I'm interested in translating my synaptic work to behavior. I studied motor behavior and found (Sitzia et al., 2020) that inhibiting NMDA receptors specifically in the SNr of parkinsonian mice rescued motor impairments. In dr. Chergui's lab, I also characterized motor and anxiety-related behaviors in a mouse model or pre-motor parkinsonism, using mice which express a mutant form of human LRRK2 (LRRK2-G2019S). I'm currently learning to use operant learning paradigms to study motor-performance and cognitive performance in mice exposed to chronic ethanol, in collaboration with dr. Bariselli in the laboratory of dr. Lovinger.
To complete my training, I will learn to use fiber photometry/ miniaturized fluorescence microscopes in the laboratory of dr. Lovinger.