Dr Francesca Cacucci Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience – The European Neuroscience Institute at University College London


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Neuronal Basis of Spatial Cognition, Learning and Memory

About Dr Francesca Cacucci

My research interests lie in the neuronal basis of spatial cognition, learning and memory. We focus on microcircuits and neuronal assemblies in the hippocampal formation, using a combination of molecular, electrophysiological, and behavioural research tools.

In particular, in our laboratory we have developed the technique of in vivo single neuron recording in mice, which provides the opportunity of studying hippocampal processing not only at the physiological and behavioural level but also at the molecular level, taking advantage of in vivo genetic manipulations. We have recently studied the role of both the alphaCamKII molecule and the NMDA receptor in the establishment and maintenance of hippocampal spatial representations.

We are also interested in the study of neurodegenerative diseases. Topographical disorientation (getting lost) may be the earliest prominent behavioural symptom of Alzheimer´s disease, and the hippocampal formation is one of the brain areas attacked early on during the progression of the disease. Studying hippocampal spatial processing in animal models of this disease might provide clues as to underlying pathology and potential therapeutic avenues. By simultaneously monitoring hippocampal physiology and spatial behaviour in these models we are able to investigate the effect of accumulating amyloid on hippocampal function. We also think that this approach can provide a quantifiable physiological indication of the beneficial effects of potential therapies.

Another line of research in the lab consists of investigating the interaction between the different components of the hippocampal spatial representation system (place cells, head direction cells and the more recently described grid cells). Currently, the ontogenetic development of the spatial representation system is unknown. We are now studying how the key components of the hippocampo-entorhinal representation system develop relative to each other, what their interrelations are, and how early experience affects this process.

For further information, please also see: https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/browse/profile?upi=FCACU14

An updated list of publications can be found here.