Vincenzo Crunelli#

Short laudatio by Ole H. Petersen#

Over the last 30 years Vincenzo Crunelli’s pioneering work has focussed on understanding the mechanisms underlying the electrical activity of neurons in two interconnected brain areas (the thalamus and cortex) during the sleep-wake cycle and in absence epilepsy, a non-convulsive form of the neurological disease that mainly affects children and teenagers. His laboratory was one of the first to use in vitro electrophysiological techniques for brain physiology and to combine it with molecular, cellular, network and systems approaches to answer the key questions in his fields of research.

Specifically, Vincenzo Crunelli provided:

1) the first comprehensive mechanistic description of the processes that lead to the expression of an epileptic absence seizure.

2) the first characterization of abnormal membrane ion channels and transporters in experimental models of the disease that paved the way to investigation of the complex polygenic abnormalities that characterize afflicted families.

3) conclusive evidence that the sudden impairment of consciousness that accompanies absence seizures is not due to excessive electrical activity (as in all other forms of convulsive epilepsy), but results from a decreased activity of neurons in the thalamus with the consequent inability of external sensory inputs to reach the cortical mantle.

Furthermore, Crunelli was the first to demonstrate the relative contributions of neurons in the thalamus and cortex to the different electrical waves that characterize the natural progression nom wakefulness to different sleep stages. His work has shown the existence of a number of behavioural state-dependent neuronal pacemakers in the thalamus that drive cortical electrical activity. By identifying the molecular, cellular and network events underlying these physiological states, Vincenzo Crunelli’s pioneering work has offered potential targets for novel therapeutic interventions in sleep disorders.

Vincenzo Crunelli’s principal contributions have been published in top high-impact journals (Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Medicine, Neuron) and he has just in the last two months published substantial papers in Nature Medicine and Nature Neuroscience.

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