International Human Frontier Science Program

What underlies the ability to count and where did it come from? One hypothesis is that our ability to accurately represent the number of objects in a set (numerosity), and to carry out numerical comparisons and simple arithmetic, developed from an evolutionarily conserved system for approximating numerical magnitude.

According to this hypothesis the ability to assess numerosities would have a conserved genetic and neural basis, and aspects of the neurobiology underlying ability to perform approximate numerical tasks would be conserved. However, although a wide range of species are able to estimate numerosities, only in primates has a neural mechanism homologous to humans' been demonstrated and the underlying cellular processes are unknown.

Thus, this project aims to test the broad hypothesis that the ability to represent numerosity has an evolutionarily conserved neural basis, and to identify the cell and molecular processes involved using multidisciplinary analysis in an evolutionarily distant vertebrate, the zebrafish.




Fondazione CARITRO

A project for early diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders.





Italian Ministry for University and Research

Neural bases of animacy detection, and their relevance to the typical and atypical development of a social brain.




PRedisposed MEchanisms for Social ORienting: A comparative neuro-cognitive approach

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 295517.

Predispositions for newly hatched/born vertebrates, including humans, to attend to and preferentially learn about conspecifics, are pervasive and can be of vital biological importance. Such predispositions are, however, very poorly understood. Studying them, and their physiological, genetic, molecular and neural bases, is crucial for an understanding of typical and atypical human development.

The aim of the project would be to study, in parallel, the neural bases of the biological predispositions to attend to motion and other visual characteristics (such as face or face-like stimuli) of living things in the newly-hatched domestic chick and in the human newborn.

In particular, we will develop a detailed animal model of vertebrate social predispositions using the domestic chick, relating this work closely to equivalent behavioural and neural measures in human newborns including those at risk of autism, for which there is no widely accepted animal model.

We aim to identify in chicks neural systems underlying known social predispositions; study their physiological, genetic and molecular bases; pursue behavioural parallels between chick and human predispositions; study brain structures activated in human newborns as they view social stimuli; by studying social attachment in chicks not expressing specific predispositions, develop a secure animal model of autism.