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  RESEARCH ACTIVITY > Laboratory of cell biology and neuroanatomy  
Laboratory of cell biology and neuroanatomy
Research Group

University of Milan
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomolecolari e Biotecnologie
via Celoria, 26 - 20133 Milano

Background and specific aims

In the central nervous system (CNS) of mammals, the extracellular matrix (ECM) is both dispersed in the neuropil and concentrated in lattice-like envelops, called perineuronal nets, which surround the cell bodies and proximal dendrites of distinct subsets of neurons. The ECM of the CNS contains glycoproteins, such as tenascin-R and tenascin-C, hyaluronan and several chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans connected reciprocally in a complex meshwork and interacting with cell surface receptors. The ECM is involved in a variety of functions, such as synapse stabilization, modulation of neuronal and glial cells interactions, binding of growth factors, protection of neurons against toxic agents or in degenerative diseases, regulation of the ionic composition of the pericellular environment.
Our researches are aimed at studying a) the organization and the composition of the ECM in different regions of the CNS (spinal cord, brain stem and cerebral cortex) and its relationships with neurons and glial cells, and b) the modifications of the ECM in animal models of spinal cord injury (SCI), of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (SLA) and of diastrophic dysplasia sulfate transporter-related disorders.
The findings should contribute to better understanding of the morphofunctional properties of the ECM of the CNS both in normal and pathological conditions.

Research projects
Specifically, we apply morphological methods (light, electron and confocal microscopy combined with immunocytochemistry and image analysis) to study:
1) in rodent models of SCI, the effects of the administration of either recombinant human erythropoietin or of neural stem cells on the expression of lecticans, phosphacans and tenascin-R (in collaboration with A. Gorio, Clinical Pharmacology IRCCS Humanitas and Dept. Medicine, Surgery and Dentistry, University of Milan);
2) the modifications of the spinal cord ECM in a murine model of SLA at different times of the disease progression (in collaboration with C. Bendotti, Dept. Neuroscience, Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan; A. Poletti, Inst. Endocrinology, Center of Excellence on Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Milan);
3) the modification of the ECM and of the cytoarchitecture of the cerebral cortex, hyppocampus and spinal cord in a diastrophic dysplasia sulfate transporter (SLC26A2) mutant mouse (in collaboration with A. Rossi, Dept. Biochemistry ‘Alessandro Castellani’, University of Pavia).
Facilities and equipment
Fully equipped laboratory for light and electron microscopy. Core facility of advanced microscopy (Centro Interdipartimentale di Microscopia Avanzata, CIMA, Università degli Studi, Milano).
Figure 1 : Confocal microscopy images of transverse sections of rat spinal cord. A, a motorneuron (mn, blue signal) in the gray matter is surrounded by a perineuronal net containing Cat-301 (aggrecan, red signal) interrupted by synaptic terminals labeled for parvalbumin (green signal). B, detail of the white matter in which versican (red signal) is concentrated at Ranvier nodes (arrows). Thin astrocyte processes are labeled for aquaporin 4 (green signal). A, 470x; B, 900x.

Recent pubblications
Erythropoietin-mediated preservation of the white matter in rat spinal cord injury. - Vitellaro Zuccarello L., Mazzetti S., Madaschi L., Bosisio P., Gorio A., De Biasi S. - Neuroscience 144:866-877. ( 2007 )
Differential expression of several extracellular matrix molecules in functionally and developmentally distinc regions of rat spinal cord. - Vitellaro Zuccarello L., Bosisio P., Mazzetti S., Monti C., De Biasi S. - Cell Tissue Res DOI 10.1007/s00441-006-0289-y. ( 2006 )
Distribution of Aquaporin 4 in rodent spinal cord: Relationship with astrocyte markers and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans. - Vitellaro Zuccarello L., Mazzetti S., Bosisio P., Monti C., De Biasi S. - Glia 5, 148-159. ( 2005 )
Chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans in the rat thalamus: expression during postnatal development and correlation with calcium-binding proteins in adults. - Vitellaro Zuccarello L., Meroni A., Amadeo A., De Biasi S. - Cell Tissue Res, 306, 15-26. ( 2001 )
Perineuronal nets: past and present. - Celio M.R., Spreafico R., De Biasi S., Vitellaro Zuccarello L. - Trends Neurosci 21, 510-515. ( 1998 )

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