Attività ricerca

The study of the brain is a frontier in modern science, that involves in a highly interdisciplinary way different disciplines. The PhD course on Neurosciences has the objective of training young scientists to perform competitive research on the neural basis of brain functions, in an integrated and cross-disciplinary way, from the molecular and cellular levels up to the level of higher cognitive functions. The Neuroscience PhD program prepares top-level researchers, who routinely go on to do research in very prestigious institutions, in Italy and abroad.

The PhD course is based on the research in Neurosciences carried out at the Bio@SNS Laboratory of Scuola Normale Superiore, in close collaboration with other SNS labs (NEST and DreamsLab) and research Institutions in Italy and abroad, with whom cooperation agreements are established.

One of the characteristics of SNS is the constant flow of visitors from all over the world; this, together with the financial support offered to our students, to visit research institutes and universities of very high standing, greatly enlarges their research horizons. Also, the limited size of SNS favors interactions among students in different disciplines, resulting in a remarkable cultural and personal enrichment.

The Neurosciences research programs at SNS focus on some of the most significant themes at the international level, neural development and stem cell biology, synaptic and neural plasticity, aging, neurodegeneration, exploiting cutting edge experimental approaches. Current research activities lead naturally to therapeutic and diagnostic applications relevant for the neurological, neurodegenerative and psychiatric pathologies that hit the human brain. Great attention is placed on the development of new experimental strategies, at the interface between Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Current research themes include:

  • Biological functions of non-coding RNAs in the fine control of gene expression in neurons.
  • Stem cells and embryonic and adult neurogenesis.
  • Mechanisms of synaptic plasticity during development, in the adult nervous system and in response to brain injuries. The control of critical periods for synaptic plasticity.
  • The biological mechanisms underlying ageing, longevity and the onset of age-related pathologies.
  • Mechanisms and molecular targets of neurodegenerative, psychiatric and neurological pathologies.
  • Recombinant proteins of therapeutic interest for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
  • New imaging technologies to visualize proteins of interest in living nerve cells, with high molecular selectivity and spatio-temporal precision.
  • Application of “omic” (genomic and proteomic) technologies to the study of the Nervous System.
  • Intrabodies: molecular tools for phenotypic knock-out and protein silencing, targeting conformational and post translational modifications.

Attività didattica

Teaching is divided into lecture and seminar courses (all held in English). Graduate students in Neurosciences will annually agree with the PhD Coordinator a study plan to be presented to the Faculty Board. Such document will specify the planned research and education activities for the relevant academic year. The courses will be chosen to enlarge the student background and deepen specific aspects related to the PhD Thesis project. A particular attention in the study plan is placed to integrate topics of “wet” biology with courses on quantitative biology. PhD students are expected to take at least three courses and to pass the corresponding exams. Students may be asked to follow some courses from the Undergraduate program, to fill some gaps in their preparation and these may or may not be in addition to the above three compulsory courses, on a case by case basis. At the end of the first year students are expected, in close consultation with the Coordinator and with approval from the Faculty Board, to choose the Thesis supervisor and project. At the end of the second and third years, PhD students should present a written report concerning the research done and the results achieved so far, together with any publications produced. The report will be discussed in an oral presentation in front of a panel of experts appointed by the Faculty Board. Upon successful performance, the student will be admitted to the subsequent year.

According to research needs, students are encouraged to spend periods of study and research at Italian and foreign institutions. All 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students, at the end of each year, will take part in a “PhD day” workshop, in which they will discuss the progresses in their work, in front of their peers and faculty.