The recognition to Annabella Pignataro for her research on cognitive faculties and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease
Annabella Pignataro, Neurobiologist of the Laboratory of Psychobiology of the Santa Lucia Foundation IRCCS, is among the winners of the Telethon-Farmindustria Prize, for “young researchers who have distinguished themselves in the field of neurodegenerative diseases with the publication of a relevant scientific work in 2018”.
Pignataro was rewarded for the results of a research carried out on cognitive deficits related to Alzheimer’s disease, published last November in the scientific journal Biological Psychiatry.
“The project – explains the researcher – was born from the clinical observation of patients. It has already been found by other studies that the cognitive deficits that present patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are less than what one would expect from observable neural degeneration in the areas of the brain responsible for those same activities. We have thus proposed to identify to which other resources the brain could draw to compensate and be able to maintain levels of performance superior to expectations “.
In her research, Dr. Pignataro focused on the faculty of memory, closely related to the brain area called the hippocampus. Through laboratory observations on animal models, Pignataro was able to detect that in the face of a hippocampus damaged by the neurodegenerative process, the brain reacted with the activation of compensating neural circuits in the basal-lateral amygdala area, mainly responsible for the management of emotions.
“It is important to underline that the study of this process did not stop at the observation of neural circuits – explains Pignataro – We managed to reconstruct it at the subcellular level and we have seen that while the hyperproduction of beta-amyloid protein in the hippocampus destroys the thorns dendritic of the latter, the compensatory mechanism induces the brain to produce new dendritic spines in another area, the amygdala. ”
Dendritic spines are important joints in the subcellular structure of neurons because they are sensitive to the excitations that underlie the nerve signal and thus provide an indispensable contribution to the process of communication within the nervous system.
The phenomena described in the study were observed in a phase in which Alzheimer’s disease does not yet present evident symptoms and thus provides new tools of analysis towards the goal of a more precocious diagnosis.
The Telethon-Farmindustria Prize was officially presented during the “Healthcare and Diversity Management” event organized in Rome by Farmindustria.
The studies of Dr. Annabella Pignataro are part of the Experimental Neuroscience Research Line of the Santa Lucia IRCCS Foundation, which includes 27 active laboratories at the European Center for Brain Research (CERC).