Ourania Semelidou, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM)

Ourania Semelidou is a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at the Neurocentre Magendie, in Bordeaux, France. Following a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and genetics and a master’s degree in molecular medicine, she obtained a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Crete. Her work has yielded novel and influential insights into the neuronal and molecular underpinnings of perception, learning and memory, and how changes in these features contribute to neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders (autism, schizophrenia). In her current project, she focuses on better understanding altered sensory experience in autism, by characterizing perceptual measures of tactile and multisensory information processing and uncovering their neural underpinnings in genetic mouse models of autism. Throughout her research career, she has received several honors and awards, including a postdoctoral fellowship for three years from the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM) and in a mobility project funding from the GIS Autisme et TND, the autism and neurodevelopmental disorders scientific interest group that is supported by the French National Strategy for Autism. In 2018, she was selected as one of the young scientists representing the next generation of leading scientists and researchers to participate in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, dedicated to physiology and medicine.

Principal Investigator: Andreas Frick

Fellow: Apolline Joliot

Undergraduate Fellow Project: Exploration of altered tactile perception in a mouse model of autism using a translatable approach

Altered sensory experience is one of the core features of autism, a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by alterations in social communication and repetitive behaviors. Altered sensitivity and reactivity to sensory stimulation affect 90 percent of autistic individuals, having a strong impact on their day-to-day life and contributing to the development of higher cognitive symptoms and repetitive behaviors. Importantly, these simple sensory alterations can be exploited to identify the neurobiological mechanisms of autism.

In this project, our lab aims to explore the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie altered tactile perception in autism. To this end, we use a sophisticated toolset, combining a novel behavioral task with in vivo two-photon microscopy in a genetic mouse model of autism. To assess tactile sensitivity we developed a perceptual decision-making task, where the animal reports the presence of vibrotactile stimuli of different intensities to receive a water reward. In parallel, we measure neuronal activity at cellular resolution, focusing on the excitatory and inhibitory neurons of the somatosensory cortex. The results of this project we help us understand how tactile responses are changed in autism and identify their neocortical underpinnings, aiming to establish preclinical biomarkers to test treatments for autism.

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