In the field of neurosciences, the term “neuroplasticity” indicates the ability of the nervous system to adapt its structure in response to a variety of factors and internal or external stimuli, including acute pathogenic conditions (for example, cerebrovascular accidents and cerebral trauma). The mammalian nervous system is generated by complex genetic and epigenetic programs that ensure a well-defined structure already at birth. This structure allows for adequate behavioural responses so to guarantee survival and development. However, sensory and motor signalling and cognition, through their interaction with the environment, have a key role in redefining neural circuitry after birth. Such modifications occur at a synaptic level and bring about a modification of synaptic strength in response to an external or internal stimulus.

In the last decade, a bulk of data provided evidence of structural nervous tissue changes. It is known that new synapses are formed, whereas other synapses are pruned through a remoulding of nerve cell ramifications. Furthermore, new cells and neurons are formed. This set of changes is generally termed plasticity, an umbrella term including biochemical and structural modifications and neurogenesis. Genetic, pharmacological and environmental factors may modulate such plasticity through mechanisms that are increasingly discovered and constitute the object of continuing cultural acquisitions.

The knowledge and possible exploitation of these mechanisms constitute a medical-therapeutic opportunity in the fields of pharmacology, genetics, and motor and cognitive rehabilitation. A key point regards the recently acquired notion that neuroplasticity regards the entire life of an individual, being particularly pluripotential and intense during the perinatal and pediatric periods, but also extends to advanced age.

The Department of Neuroscience, Mental Health and Sensory Organs (NESMOS) proposes this Doctoral Course in the ideal condition for interdisciplinarity, including both Scientific-Disciplinary Sectors of Sense Organs and other clinical and neuroscientific sectors (Neurology, Psychiatry, Neuroradiology, Pediatrics and Neuropediatrics in particular), concerning the entire individual life span.

The main objective of the PLANS PhD is to provide a high-level educational and scientific activity focused on neuroplasticity, in the various manifestations that occur in neurophysiology and neurophysiopathology.

The central topic is the study of neuroplastic adaptation following sensory or brain damage and its repercussions on perceptual and cognitive abilities (for example, processing of complex information such as recognition of faces, memory, language, reasoning and decision-making processes).

Increasing attention has been paid in recent years to the role of systemic factors (such as infections or inflammations) in modifying the nervous response to external stimuli or in modulating the repair processes, which can be influenced by immune-mediated factors. once influenced by conditions traditionally thought to be foreign to the brain. Very recently, studies on guinea pigs have examined the role of the intestinal microbiota in modifying functional recovery to cerebrovascular lesions. The Infectious Diseases Unit will play a central role in this type of study. Molecular Biology will contribute to the study and teaching of measurable variables associated with reparative processes, also with methods typical of Precision Medicine aimed at the mechanisms underlying the variability of individual responses. The topic concerns areas of enormous social and health interest, including mental disorders (including drug-resistant disorders and the increasingly widespread substance use, gambling and eating disorders) and neurodegenerative diseases (and related response to focal sensory and/or neurological deficits).

The central and founding element of this PhD course will therefore be the integration of knowledge and skills in the areas mentioned. The training process also provides the opportunity for each doctoral student to interact with research structures and clinics at a national and international level, capable of implementing the project on a theoretical, methodological and operational level, to be identified in advance for the individual disciplines concerned.

The individual research project of the PhD student will be evaluated based on its potentials of innovation, and feasibility of the study, taking into account the time and clinical and research facilities available. The training process provides the opportunity for each PhD student to interact with research facilities and clinics at a national and international level, which can implement the project on a theoretical, methodological and operational level. The Doctorate may include periods of study and research in international research structures. For this purpose, existing relationships with the University of South Florida, the University Hospital of Zurich, the University of Novi Sad Clinical Center of Vojvodina or new collaborations/agreements with international structures with high scientific and educational qualification requirements may be used.


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