Overview | Research directions | Members | Publications | Ongoing Collaborations


The Molecular and Cellular Cognition (mc²) group is dedicated to investigating the molecular and cellular components of cognitive processes. The research is mainly focused on the molecular bases of social cognition and their link to neurodevelopmental disorders, using a combination of behavioral, neurobiological and molecular techniques.

Research directions

  • Biological predispositions in chicks: molecular and cellular mechanisms and link to neurodevelopmental disorders.
    Biological predispositions to attend to visual cues guide social behaviour from the first moments of life and have been documented in human neonates, infant monkeys and domestic chicks. Using embryonic exposure to valproic acid (VPA), an anticonvulsant associated to increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD), widely used to induce ASD core symptoms in animal models, we modelled ASD behavioural deficits in domestic chicks. To shed light on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of social predispositions and their lack of expression in VPA-treated chicks we investigate:
    • changes in specific neurotransmitter systems, in particular the serotonergic and dopaminergic neurons, at cellular and molecular level;
    • epigenetic changes in specific gene networks associated with social cognition;
    • global, behaviourally-induced, epigenetic and gene expression changes associated to social predispositions and their lack of expression in VPA-treated chicks.
  • Development of novel strategies for genome editing in domestic chicks
    Domestic chicks have been widely used to study molecular mechanisms of brain development with classical embryological experiments. Using a combination of the newly-developed genome editing techniques (CRISPR/Cas9) and classical embryology approaches we aim at developing new genetic model of neurodevelopmental disorders in domestic chicks.


  • Paola Sgadò, Principal Investigator
  • Francesca Marchetti, Master Student
  • Raffaele Specogna, Master Student
  • Gabriella Giunta, Postgraduate trainee


For a complete list see Paola Sgadò personal page

Ongoing Collaborations

  • Dr. Elisabetta Versace, Queen Mary University of London, UK
  • Prof. Toshiya Matsushima, Faculty of Science, Hokkaido University, Japan
  • Dr. Margherita Marzoni Fecia di Cossato, Dipartimento di Scienze Veterinarie, Università di Pisa, Italy