Nicolangelo Iannella

Nicolangelo Iannella

Project Title: 

The endoplasmic reticulum's role in synaptic plasticity and the emergence of orientation tuning in cortical neurons

Host Organisation: 

School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham

Short biography

Nicolangelo Iannella received his BSc degree in theoretical and mathematical physics from the University of Adelaide in 1990,  BSc (honours) and MSc (Res) degrees in theoretical physics from The Flinders University of South Australia in 1991 and 1995 respectively, and a PhD  in engineering, majoring in computational neuroscience, from The University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, Japan, in 2009.  From 2009, he was a postdoctoral Researcher in RIKEN BSI. In 2010 he won the prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Australian Postdoctoral Award (APD) fellowship, based from 2010-2014 at the University of Adelaide.  From 2014 he joined the Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience Laboratory, Institute for Telecommunications Research, School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences, The University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes, SA, Australia, where he was an Adjunct research fellow. His research interests include synaptic plasticity, mathematical and computational modelling of neurons and spiking neural networks, ranging from simple abstract to biophysically detailed models, systems biology and neuromorphic engineering. Dr Iannella is a member of the Society of Neuroscience (SFN) and IEEE member and is currently a grants assessor for the Australian Research Council (ARC) and reviewer for several international journals.

Brief description of research project

This project aims to develop and use new methods to fundamentally understand how the endoplasmic reticulum(ER), a compartment within brain cells (neurons), and the microscopic nature of biochemical influences on synaptic plasticity (processes that allow neurons to change and adapt both their intrinsic properties and the spatial patterns of connections between cells) lead to the development of selective response properties of neurons, such as orientation selectivity. The project will shed light on a poorly understood issue fundamental to brain function: the role and interplay between the ER and the biochemical processes underlying synaptic plasticity, that result in the complex pattern of connections from one neuron to another neuron's dendrite, leading to the emergence of orientation selectivity (where a neuron responds preferentially and vigorously to stimuli with a specific orientation), and how this is engrained in the spatially-extended branching projections that transmit stimulation to the cell body of the neuron (dendrites).

Development of a theoretical framework for understanding how the Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) contributes to the formation of orientation selectivity in the cortex is still has progressed well and there several options one can take in understanding the interaction between the “traditional neuron” and the ER. The dynamics of the neuron, including ER, is governed by a system of partial differential equations but depending on physical properties of interest, one has the choice of a coupled system where diffusion is dominant or a coupled diffusive and sub-diffusive system (coupled system described by a cable and fractional cable equation).

The development of parallel computations in NEURON have also been pursued focusing on ensuring that simulation results are correct for specific sets of test programs. Development and testing of multiscale network simulations of the early visual cortex where orientation selectivity, a cell’s preference to respond robustly when presented with a grating pattern of a particular orientation, emerges as a result of learning is being pursued as a priority.