Fabrizia Cesca

Researcher
Researcher

Contacts

Center for Synaptic Neuroscience, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, L.go Rosanna Benzi, 10
+39 010 5558 382

About

I obtained a Master's degree summa cum laude in Biological Sciences at the University of Padua. After my degree I moved to London, where I attained a PhD in biochemistry at the University College of London, working in the laboratory of Dr. Schiavo at Cancer Research UK. I then moved to IIT, in Genova, where I currently hold a Researcher position in the group led by Dr. Benfenati.


I have spent most of my career working in the neuroscience field. During my PhD and postdoc, I have worked on axonal transport, intracellular trafficking and signaling, mouse genetics and development, physiology of neurotrophins, and synaptic vesicle recycling. I have recently approached the new and exciting field of optogenetics, and I am now supervising a number of projects dealing with the development and validation of new optogenetic probes for in vitro and in vivo applications. In addition, I am involved in a number of collaborative projects, all EU-funded, aimed at characterizing new biocompatible materials for nervous system regeneration.

Projects

My past and present research activity within the IIT Center for Synaptic Neuroscience (IIT-NSYN) has focused on the understanding of the molecular and genetic pathways controlling neuronal development and maturation, as well as on the mechanisms that ensure the maintenance of network homeostasis. I have approached this topic by studying (i) the biology of the neurotrophin family of growth factors, mainly brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and (ii) the role of the RE1-silencing transcription factor (REST) in the control of gene expression through epigenetic modifications of target chromatin. More recently, I have approached the field of ‘material biology’ (iii), working on the characterization of novel biocompatible materials to modulate network development and activity and drive nervous system regeneration.

       (i) In a series of papers spanning several years of research, I have characterized the role played by Kinase D interacting substrate of 220 kDa (Kidins220), a transmembrane neuronal protein, in the modulation of the intracellular signaling pathways triggered by neurotrophins. In vitro studies on primary neurons and astrocytes showed that Kidins220 mediates BDNF stimuli to achieve proper growth, differentiation and maturation of neural cells, modulating important physiological processes such as intracellular trafficking, synaptic activity and intracellular Ca2+ dynamics. In parallel to this work, I have also undertaken an in vivo approach, using Kidins220-deficient mouse lines that I generated at UCL, which allowed investigating how Kidins220 and neurotrophins contribute to nervous system development and to the acquisition and maintenance of higher functions such as learning, memory and social behavior. In the latest years, I have worked on this project together with two PhD students and a post-doctoral fellow, hired thanks to a ‘Compagnia di San Paolo’ grant I was awarded, all of whom I directly supervised. By working on this research line, I have gained an extensive knowledge of cellular neurobiology, especially on the molecular mechanisms modulating neuronal survival, growth and differentiation. Moreover, I have acquired a broad expertise in the phenotypic analysis of transgenic mouse lines, mastering a number of experimental approaches including biochemistry, histology and behavioral analysis.

       (ii) The alteration of REST-dependent transcriptional regulation is a common feature of several neurological diseases, thus, the possibility to manipulate the activity of this transcription factor is of high interest for pre-clinical and clinical studies. To tackle this challenge, I contributed to the engineering of two classes of optogenetic tools able to bi-directionally modulate the activity of REST: probes based on the light-sensitive Light-Oxygen-Voltage (LOV) domain, to inhibit REST binding to target genes, and probes based on the RNA-binding protein Pumilio and FBF (PUF), to increase REST expression and activity (unpublished). These tools are currently applied to understand the role of REST in the control of neuronal excitability and synaptic plasticity, in vitro and in vivo in pharmacological and genetic models of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as by using a transgenic mouse line bearing the floxed REST gene. We are furthermore studying the signaling pathways and post-translational modifications controlling REST activity. Co-leading this project gave me the opportunity to approach the field of optogenetics, and to acquire the basic mechanisms underlying the light-induced modulation of cell physiology. Moreover, thanks to the ongoing collaboration with the research group led by Prof. Uccelli (IRCCS San Martino, Genova), I became familiar with the mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a widely accepted model of demyelinating diseases, such as MS. This allowed me to gain some experience on the important topic of neuroinflammation, which I am currently pursuing through the use of neuronal cultures in vitro, and in vivo in EAE mice.

            (iii) Research on novel biocompatible materials has blossomed in recent years, especially for applications in the neuroscience field, as there is a paucity of effective treatments to recover neuronal damage upon insults or in the presence of neurodegenerative diseases. In this context, I carried on my research activity mainly within a number of EU-funded projects, including the GRAPHENE Flagship. With the aim of identifying novel materials suitable for drug delivery, I contributed to the characterization of the toxicity of a range of graphene-based materials and nanoparticles, with primary neurons, astrocytes and microglia [Chiacchiaretta et al, under revision]. Particular attention is presently devoted to the ability of these materials to efficiently and safely cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to act as efficient vectors for drug or nucleic acid delivery to the brain. In parallel, we are investigating the possibility to grow functional neural networks on 2D planar / 3D scaffolds made of electrically conductive materials, patterned and functionalized with various bioactive molecules. Conductive materials are of interest as they can drive growth and regeneration, while adhesion and synaptogenic molecules can be exploited to achieve patterned growth and enhance the formation of functional synapses. The performance of the various substrates is evaluated first in vitro, and the best-performing devices are subsequently tested in vivo, in animal models of nervous system injury.

Selected Publications

Bramini M, Sacchetti S, Armirotti A, Rocchi A, Vázquez E, León Castellanos V, Bandiera T, Cesca F*, Benfenati F*: Graphene Oxide Nanosheets Disrupt Lipid Composition, Ca(2+) Homeostasis, and Synaptic Transmission in Primary Cortical Neurons. ACS Nano. 2016 Jul 26;10(7):7154-71. *equal contribution, corresponding authors

Paonessa F, Criscuolo S, Sacchetti S, Amoroso D, Scarongella H, Pecoraro Bisogni F, Carminati E, Pruzzo G, Maragliano L, Cesca F*, Benfenati F*: Regulation of neural gene transcription by optogenetic inhibition of the RE1-Silencing Transcription Factor. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jan 5;113(1):E91-E100. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1507355112. Epub 2015 Dec 23. *equal contribution, corresponding authors

Fiala GJ, Janowska I, Prutek F, Hobeika E, Satapathy A, Sprenger A, Plum T, Seidl M, Dengjel J, Reth M, Cesca F, Brummer T, Minguet S, Schamel WW: Kidins220/ARMS binds to the B cell antigen receptor and regulates B cell development and activation. J Exp Med. 2015 Aug 31. pii: jem.20141271

Medrihan L, Cesca F, Raimondi A, Lignani G, Baldelli P and Benfenati F: Synapsin II desynchronizes neurotransmitter release at inhibitory synapses by interacting with presynaptic calcium channels. Nat Commun. 2013;4:1512

Cesca F*#, Yabe A*, Spencer-Dene B, Scholz-Starke J, Medrihan L, Maden CH, Gerhardt H, Orriss IR, Baldelli P, Al-Qatari M, Koltzenburg M, Adams RH, Benfenati F and Schiavo G: Kidins220/ARMS mediates the integration of the neurotrophin and VEGF pathways in the vascular and nervous systems. Cell Death Differ. 2012 Feb;19(2):194-208 #corresponding author

 

IIT Publications

  • 2018
  • Limongi T., Rocchi A.iit, Cesca F.iit, Tan H., Miele E.iit, Giugni A., Orlando M.iit, Perrone Donnorso M.iit, Perozziello G., Benfenati F.iit, Di Fabrizio E.
    DOI

    Delivery of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor by 3D Biocompatible Polymeric Scaffolds for Neural Tissue Engineering and Neuronal Regeneration

    Molecular Neurobiology, vol. 55, (no. 12), pp. 8788-8798
  • Bramini M.iit, Alberini G.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Maragliano L.iit, Cesca F.iit

    Interactions Between 2D Graphene-Based Materials and the Nervous Tissue.

    Advanced 2D Materials – Characterization, Production and Applications, Publisher: SCIENCE PUBLISHERS (An Imprint of CRC Press/ Taylor & Francis Group)
  • Bramini M.iit, Alberini G., Colombo E., Chiacchiaretta M., DiFrancesco M. L., Maya-Vetencourt J. F., Maragliano L.iit, Benfenati F., Cesca F.iit
    DOI

    Interfacing Graphene-Based Materials With Neural Cells

    Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience
  • 2017
  • Piccini A., Castroflorio E.iit, Valente P., Guarnieri F.C., Aprile D., Michetti C.iit, Bramini M.iit, Giansante G., Pinto B.iit, Savardi A.iit, Cesca F.iit, Bachi A., Cattaneo A., Wren J.D., Fassio A.iit, Valtorta F., Benfenati F.iit, Giovedi S.
    DOI

    APache Is an AP2-Interacting Protein Involved in Synaptic Vesicle Trafficking and Neuronal Development

    Cell Reports, vol. 21, (no. 12), pp. 3596-3611
  • Marini M., Limongi T., Falqui A., Genovese A., Allione M., Moretti M., Lopatin S., Tirinato L., Das G., Torre B., Giugni A., Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Di Fabrizio E.
    DOI

    Imaging and structural studies of DNA-protein complexes and membrane ion channels

    Nanoscale, vol. 9, (no. 8), pp. 2768-2777
  • Chiacchiaretta M.iit, Latifi S.iit, Bramini M.iit, Fadda M., Fassio A.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Cesca F.iit
    DOI

    Neuronal hyperactivity causes Na+/H+ exchanger-induced extracellular acidification at active synapses

    Journal of Cell Science, vol. 130, (no. 8), pp. 1435-1449
  • Eleftheriou C.iit, Cesca F.iit, Maragliano L.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Maya-Vetencourt J.F.iit
    DOI

    Optogenetic modulation of intracellular signalling and transcription: Focus on neuronal plasticity

    Journal of Experimental Neuroscience, vol. 2017, (no. 11)
  • Cesca F.iit

    Towards the use of graphene for biomedical applications: evaluation of neuronal and glial biocompatibility

    21st International Conference on Solid State Ionics
  • 2016
  • Bramini M.iit, Sacchetti S.iit, Armirotti A.iit, Rocchi A.iit, Vazquez E., Leon Castellanos V., Bandiera T.iit, Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Graphene Oxide Nanosheets Disrupt Lipid Composition, Ca2+ Homeostasis, and Synaptic Transmission in Primary Cortical Neurons

    ACS Nano, vol. 10, (no. 7), pp. 7154-7171
  • Paonessa F.iit, Criscuolo S.iit, Sacchetti S.iit, Amoroso D.iit, Scarongella H.iit, Bisogni F.P.iit, Carminati E.iit, Pruzzo G.iit, Maragliano L.iit, Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Regulation of neural gene transcription by optogenetic inhibition of the RE1-silencing transcription factor

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 113, (no. 1), pp. E91-E100
  • Cesca F.iit

    Smart materials for biomedical applications

    10th FENS Forum of Neuroscience 2016
  • Scholz-Starke J., Cesca F.iit
    DOI

    Stepping out of the shade: Control of neuronal activity by the scaffold protein Kidins220/ARMS

    Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, vol. 10, (no. MAR2016)
  • Lievens P.M.-J.iit, Kuznetsova T.iit, Kochlamazashvili G.iit, Cesca F.iit, Gorinski N., Galil D.A., Cherkas V., Ronkina N., Lafera J., Gaestel M., Ponimaskin E., Dityatev A.iit
    DOI

    ZDHHC3 tyrosine phosphorylation regulates neural cell adhesion molecule palmitoylation

    Molecular and Cellular Biology, vol. 36, (no. 17), pp. 2208-2225
  • 2015
  • Cesca F.iit, Satapathy A.iit, Ferrea E.iit, Nieus T.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Scholz-Starke J.iit
    DOI

    Functional interaction between the scaffold protein Kidins220/ARMS and neuronal voltage-gated Na+ channels

    Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol. 290, (no. 29), pp. 18045-18055
  • Piepgras J., Holtje M., Otto C., Harms H., Satapathy A.iit, Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Gitler D., Pich A., Zander J.-F., Ahnert-Hilger G., Ruprecht K.
    DOI

    Intrathecal immunoglobulin A and G antibodies to synapsin in a patient with limbic encephalitis

    Neurology, vol. 2, (no. 6)
  • Fiala G.J., Janowska I., Prutek F., Hobeika E., Satapathy A.iit, Sprenger A., Plum T., Seidl M., Dengjel J., Reth M., Cesca F.iit, Brummer T., Minguet S., Schamel W.W.A.
    DOI

    Kidins220/ARMS binds to the B cell antigen receptor and regulates B cell development and activation

    Journal of Experimental Medicine, vol. 212, (no. 10), pp. 1693-1708
  • Cesca F.iit

    Kidins220/ARMS is a functional mediator of neurotrophin signaling pathways in nervous system development, maturation and plasticity

    XVI Congress of Italian Society for Neuroscience, Cagliari, Italy.
  • Cesca F.iit

    The neuronal protein Kidins220/ARMS is a functional mediator of nervous system development, maturation and plasticity

    66th National Congress of the Italian Physiology Society (SIF)
  • 2014
  • De Faveri S.iit, Maggioiini E.iit, Miele E.iit, De Angeiis F.iit, Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Fadiga L.iit
    DOI

    Bio-inspired hybrid microelectrodes: A hybrid solution to improve long-term performance of chronic intracortical implants

    Frontiers in Neuroengineering, vol. 7, (no. APR)
  • Cesca F.iit, Limongi T., Accardo A.iit, Rocchi A.iit, Orlando M.iit, Shalabaeva V.iit, Di Fabrizio E., Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Fabrication of biocompatible free-standing nanopatterned films for primary neuronal cultures

    RSC Advances, vol. 4, (no. 86), pp. 45696-45702
  • 2013
  • Lignani G.iit, Raimondi A.iit, Ferrea E.iit, Rocchi A.iit, Paonessa F.iit, Cesca F.iit, Orlando M.iit, Tkatch T.iit, Valtorta F., Cossette P., Baldelli P.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Epileptogenic Q555X SYN1 mutant triggers imbalances in release dynamics and short-term plasticity

    Human Molecular Genetics, vol. 22, (no. 11), pp. 2186-2199
  • Limongi T.iit, Cesca F.iit, Gentile F.iit, Marotta R.iit, Ruffilli R.iit, Barberis A.iit, Dal Maschio M.iit, Petrini E.M.iit, Santoriello S.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Di Fabrizio E.iit
    DOI

    Nanostructured superhydrophobic substrates trigger the development of 3D neuronal networks

    Small, vol. 9, (no. 3), pp. 402-412
  • Paonessa F., Scarongella H., Pruzzo G., Maragliano L.iit, Benfenati F., Cesca F.iit

    Optogenetic Regulation of Transcription: Modulation of the RE1-Silencing Transcription Factor (REST)

    The 22nd ISFN Annual Meeting & Second Binational Italian-Israeli Neuroscience Meeting
  • Paonessa F.iit, Latifi S.iit, Scarongella H.iit, Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Specificity protein 1 (Sp1)-dependent activation of the synapsin I gene (SYN1) is modulated by RE1-silencing transcription factor (REST) and 5'-cytosine-phosphoguanine (CPG) methylation

    Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol. 288, (no. 5), pp. 3227-3239
  • Medrihan L.iit, Cesca F.iit, Raimondi A.iit, Lignani G.iit, Baldelli P.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Synapsin II desynchronizes neurotransmitter release at inhibitory synapses by interacting with presynaptic calcium channels

    Nature Communications, vol. 4
  • Farisello P.iit, Boido D.iit, Nieus T.iit, Medrihan L.iit, Cesca F.iit, Valtorta F., Baldelli P.iit, Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Synaptic and extrasynaptic origin of the excitation/inhibition imbalance in the hippocampus of synapsin I/II/III knockout mice

    Cerebral Cortex, vol. 23, (no. 3), pp. 581-593
  • 2012
  • Neubrand V.E., Cesca F.iit, Benfenati F.iit, Schiavo G.
    DOI

    Kidins220/ARMS as a functional mediator of multiple receptor signalling pathways

    Journal of Cell Science, vol. 125, (no. 8), pp. 1845-1854
  • Scholz-Starke J.iit, Cesca F.iit, Schiavo G., Benfenati F.iit, Baldelli P.iit
    DOI

    Kidins220/ARMS is a novel modulator of short-term synaptic plasticity in hippocampal GABAergic neurons

    PLoS ONE, vol. 7, (no. 4)
  • Cesca F.iit, Yabe A., Spencer-Dene B., Scholz-Starke J.iit, Medrihan L.iit, Maden C.H., Gerhardt H., Orriss I.R., Baldelli P.iit, Al-Qatari M., Koltzenburg M., Adams R.H., Benfenati F.iit, Schiavo G.
    DOI

    Kidins220ARMS mediates the integration of the neurotrophin and VEGF pathways in the vascular and nervous systems

    Cell Death and Differentiation, vol. 19, (no. 2), pp. 194-208
  • 2011
  • Scholz-Starke J., Cesca F.iit, Schiavo G., Benfenati F., Baldelli P.

    Characterization of GABAergic transmission and cortical development in Kidins220/ARMS knock-out mice

    Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience 2011
  • Cesca F.iit, Baldelli P.iit, Valtorta F., Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    Corrigendum to "The synapsins: Key actors of synapse function and plasticity" [Prog. Neurobiol. 91 (4) (2010) 313-348]

    Progress in Neurobiology, vol. 93, (no. 4)
  • Cesca F.iit, Yabe A., Spencer-Dene B., Arrigoni A.iit, Al-Qatari M., Henderson D., Phillips H., Koltzenburg M., Benfenati F.iit, Schiavo G.
    DOI

    Kidins220/ARMS is an essential modulator of cardiovascular and nervous system development

    Cell Death and Disease, vol. 2, (no. 11)
  • Wang S., Cesca F.iit, Loers G., Schweizer M., Buck F., Benfenati F.iit, Schachner M., Kleene R.
    DOI

    Synapsin I is an oligomannose-carrying glycoprotein, acts as an oligomannose-binding lectin, and promotes neurite outgrowth and neuronal survival when released via glia-derived exosomes

    Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 31, (no. 20), pp. 7275-7290
  • 2010
  • Boido D.iit, Farisello P.iit, Cesca F.iit, Ferrea E.iit, Valtorta F., Benfenati F.iit, Baldelli P.iit
    DOI

    Cortico-hippocampal hyperexcitability in synapsin I/II/III knockout mice: Age-dependency and response to the antiepileptic drug levetiracetam

    Neuroscience, vol. 171, (no. 1), pp. 268-283
  • Cesca F.iit, Yabe A., Spencer-Dene B., Scholz-Starke J., Baldelli P., Al-Qatari M., Adams R. H., Benfenati F., Schiavo G.

    Kidins220/ARMS mediates BDNF signalling during the development of mouse central and peripheral nervous system

    40th annual meeting Society for Neuroscience
  • Cesca F.iit, Baldelli P.iit, Valtorta F., Benfenati F.iit
    DOI

    The synapsins: Key actors of synapse function and plasticity

    Progress in Neurobiology, vol. 91, (no. 4), pp. 313-348
  • 2008
  • Cesca F.

    Kidins220/ARMS in the neurotrophin pathways: from intracellular trafficking to mouse development

    Molecular Mechanisms in Neuroscience
  • 2007
  • Bracale A., Cesca F., Neubrand V.E., Newsome T.P., Way M., Schiavo G.
    DOI

    Kidins220/ARMS is transported by a kinesin-1-based mechanism likely to be involved in neuronal differentiation

    Molecular Biology of the Cell, vol. 18, (no. 1), pp. 142-152
  • 2006
  • Cesca F.

    The trafficking of Kidins220/ARMS is mediated by Kinesin-1 and is required for neuronal differentiation in response to NGF

    NGF 2006: Nerve Growth Factor and related neurotrophic factors: from laboratory to clinic
  • 2005
  • Cesca F.

    Kidins220 trafficking is regulated by a direct interaction with Kinesin I

    Joint 61st Harden Conference/EMBO Workshop - Molecular motors: structure and function

Awards

Principal Investigator in the following project:

  • Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy) “Novel modulators of sodium channels and neuronal excitability” 2014-2015

Co-investigator in the following projects (past and present):

  • Compagnia di San Paolo “New molecularly targeted therapies for metastatic Uveal Melanoma” 2018-2020 [Principal Investigator: Dr. U. Pfeffer, Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, Genova]
  • Compagnia di San Paolo “Modulation of adult visual cortical plasticity via optogenetic control of gene expression” 2015-2017 [Principal Investigator: Dr. F. Maya-Vetencourt, IIT Genova]
  • PROGETTI GIOVANI RICERCATORI - Italian Ministry of Health “Study of the role of extracellular vesicles in promoting myogenic differentiation” 2014-2016 [Principal Investigator: Dr. M. Guescini, University of Urbino]
  • PRIN-MIUR - Italian Ministry of University and Research “Spinal injury: towards the development of cell-instructive scaffolds for nerve tissue repair” 2014-2016 [Principal Investigator: Prof. L. Ballerini, University of Trieste / SISSA]
  • CURE - Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (U.S.) “Optogenetic regulation of the transcription of epilepsy genes: an innovative strategy to cure drug-resistant epilepsy” 2014 [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]

Part of the Research team in the following projects (past and present):

  • “GRAPHENE” (Graphene-Driven Revolutions in ICT and Beyond, ICT Call FET Flagships 2013, FP7-ICT-2013-FET-F), 2013-2016 Ramp-up phase, WP2 ‘Health and environment’; 2016-2018 Core 1 and 2018-2020 Core 2, WP4 ‘Health and environment’ [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]
  • FISM “Therapeutic targeting of REST activity and expression to reduce neurodegeneration and synaptic deficits in chronic EAE” 2016-2018 [Principal Investigator: Prof. A. Uccelli, University of Genova]
  • “DESIRE” (Development and Epilepsy - Strategies for Innovative Research to improve diagnosis, prevention and treatment in children with difficult to treat Epilepsy, FP7-HEALTH-2013-INNOVATION-1), 2013-2017 [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]
  • “NEUROSCAFFOLDS” (Rapid prototyping scaffolds for the nervous system, FP7-NMP-2013-EU-China), 2013-2015 [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]
  • “OLIMPIA” (Training Network on Organic Optoelectronics Integrated with Living Systems for Neuroscience Investigations and Applications, FP7-PEOPLE-2012-ITN), 2012-2015 [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]
  • “FOCUS” (Single Molecule Activation and Computing, ICT-2009 8.7 FET proactive 7: Molecular Scale Devices and Systems), 2011-2013 [Principal Investigator: Prof. F. Benfenati, IIT Genova]