Michèle STUDER

Development and Function of Brain Circuits

Main interests

  • COUP-TFI/NR2F1 in neurodevelopmental cortical disorders
  • Transcriptional regulation and activity-dependent mechanisms during mammalian circuit formation
  • Mechanisms controlling topographic neuronal connectivity
  • Mapping neuronal populations involved in sensorimotor auditory circuits

Scientific Questions

During neurogenesis, different progenitor and neuronal cell types are sequentially generated from a complex population of multipotent stem cells following a precise spatial and temporal pattern before being assembled into maps and circuits. We aim to dissect the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which these different cell types are regulated by defined regionalized and coordinated intrinsic programs and by extrinsic activity-dependent cues that continuously interact during pre- and postnatal development, and control neuronal traits and topographic map formation.

We work on two major regions of the mouse brain: the forebrain and the hindbrain. In the forebrain, we focus on the transcriptional regulator COUP-TFI/NR2F1 recently identified as a neurodevelopmental disease gene and playing multiple roles during neocortical and hippocampal development.  In the hindbrain, we aim to identify the different subpopulations arising from rhombomere 4 and contributing to the assembly of the central auditory, trigeminal and vestibular systems.

Fig. 1 – Embryonic mouse cortex labeled with cell-type specific antibodie

Our Strategy

To unravel some of the key molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying neural organization and circuit formation, we use the mouse as an in vivo experimental model and several genetic mutants, which reproduce the clinical features of patients with either intellectual disabilities or hearing sensory impairments. Our strategy is to study the specification of progenitor and neuronal cell types as well as the assembly of neuronal circuits required in shaping distinct functional topographic maps in the healthy and diseased brain.

The team has added to the standard molecular and cellular approaches a whole series of interdisciplinary experimental techniques. We combine genetic gain-and-loss of function approaches, in utero electroporation, 3D imaging of axonal tracts, lineage tracing, in-depth morphological analysis, mouse behavior and high-throughput molecular screening to elucidate how cell specification, migration and connectivity are functionally coordinated and ensure proper assembly of subcircuits in the developing brain. We also aim to develop cerebral 3D organoids as an in vitro model of human development and disease with the overall goal to assess mutations identified in patients.

As developmental abnormalities participate in the etiology of several neuropsychiatric disorders, understanding how different brain populations become organized and connected is essential to advance our comprehension of cognitive human diseases.

Research Aims

Neurodevelopmental diseases arise from anomalies occurring during the embryonic or fetal age and impairing normal brain functioning. Haploinsufficiency of the orphan nuclear receptor COUP-TFI/NR2F1 leads to developmental delay, intellectual disability, autistic behavior, infantile epilepsy and optic atrophy.  We are using different mouse models, in utero electroporation and in vitro approaches to understand the contribution of single mutations identified in patients in the pathophysiological mechanisms of this newly genetic rare disease.

Fig. 3 – Electroporated mouse brain

Transcriptional regulation and activity-dependent mechanisms are essential in the maturation of neurons and formation of complex neuronal networks. We are interested in understanding their contribution in the topographic connectivity between the cortex and their subcerebral targets. We focus on the molecular cascade required in driving layer V projection neurons into corticopontine or corticospinal motor neurons, and in remodeling layer IV neurons during the formation of primary somatosensory maps.

Fig. 4 – Thy1-eYFP-H transgenic line

Through functional and intersectional mouse genetics, we aim to map auditory pathways and networks in normal and pathological hearing conditions as well as to identify novel genes involved in the specification of auditory subtypes in the central nervous system. In particular, we will investigate how cells originating from distinct subdomains of rhombomere 4 (r4) contribute in shaping coordinated functional sensorimotor auditory subcircuits.

Fig. 5 - Rhombomere 4 fate map


EL KHAYAT EL SABBOURI Hiba - +33 489150721
DESCHAUX Olivier - +33 489150721
BERTACCHI Michele - +33 489150721


TOCCO Chiara - +33 489150721
PHROMKRASAE Wanchana - +33 489150721


GUIDAL Valentin - +33 489150721


PIOVANI Paolo - +33 489150721


  1. Jurkute, N, Bertacchi, M, Arno, G, Tocco, C, Kim, US, Kruszewski, AM et al.. Pathogenic NR2F1 variants cause a developmental ocular phenotype recapitulated in a mutant mouse model. Brain Commun. 2021;3 (3):fcab162. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcab162. PubMed PMID:34466801 PubMed Central PMC8397830.
  2. Harb, K, Bertacchi, M, Studer, M. Optimized Immunostaining of Embryonic and Early Postnatal Mouse Brain Sections. Bio Protoc. 2021;11 (1):e3868. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.3868. PubMed PMID:33732758 PubMed Central PMC7952938.
  3. Foglio, B, Rossini, L, Garbelli, R, Regondi, MC, Mercurio, S, Bertacchi, M et al.. Dynamic expression of NR2F1 and SOX2 in developing and adult human cortex: comparison with cortical malformations. Brain Struct Funct. 2021;226 (4):1303-1322. doi: 10.1007/s00429-021-02242-7. PubMed PMID:33661352 .
  4. Del Pino, I, Tocco, C, Magrinelli, E, Marcantoni, A, Ferraguto, C, Tomagra, G et al.. COUP-TFI/Nr2f1 Orchestrates Intrinsic Neuronal Activity during Development of the Somatosensory Cortex. Cereb Cortex. 2020;30 (11):5667-5685. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa137. PubMed PMID:32572460 .
  5. Bertacchi, M, Romano, AL, Loubat, A, Tran Mau-Them, F, Willems, M, Faivre, L et al.. NR2F1 regulates regional progenitor dynamics in the mouse neocortex and cortical gyrification in BBSOAS patients. EMBO J. 2020;39 (13):e104163. doi: 10.15252/embj.2019104163. PubMed PMID:32484994 PubMed Central PMC7327499.
  6. Bertacchi, M, Gruart, A, Kaimakis, P, Allet, C, Serra, L, Giacobini, P et al.. Mouse Nr2f1 haploinsufficiency unveils new pathological mechanisms of a human optic atrophy syndrome. EMBO Mol Med. 2019;11 (8):e10291. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201910291. PubMed PMID:31318166 PubMed Central PMC6685104.
  7. Mercurio, S, Serra, L, Motta, A, Gesuita, L, Sanchez-Arrones, L, Inverardi, F et al.. Sox2 Acts in Thalamic Neurons to Control the Development of Retina-Thalamus-Cortex Connectivity. iScience. 2019;15 :257-273. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2019.04.030. PubMed PMID:31082736 PubMed Central PMC6517317.
  8. Contesse, T, Ayrault, M, Mantegazza, M, Studer, M, Deschaux, O. Hyperactive and anxiolytic-like behaviors result from loss of COUP-TFI/Nr2f1 in the mouse cortex. Genes Brain Behav. 2019;18 (7):e12556. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12556. PubMed PMID:30653836 .
  9. Terrigno, M, Bertacchi, M, Pandolfini, L, Baumgart, M, Calvello, M, Cellerino, A et al.. The microRNA miR-21 Is a Mediator of FGF8 Action on Cortical COUP-TFI Translation. Stem Cell Reports. 2018;11 (3):756-769. doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.08.002. PubMed PMID:30174317 PubMed Central PMC6135738.
  10. Simi, A, Studer, M. Developmental genetic programs and activity-dependent mechanisms instruct neocortical area mapping. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2018;53 :96-102. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2018.06.007. PubMed PMID:30005291 .
  11. Bonzano, S, Crisci, I, Podlesny-Drabiniok, A, Rolando, C, Krezel, W, Studer, M et al.. Neuron-Astroglia Cell Fate Decision in the Adult Mouse Hippocampal Neurogenic Niche Is Cell-Intrinsically Controlled by COUP-TFI In Vivo. Cell Rep. 2018;24 (2):329-341. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.06.044. PubMed PMID:29996095 .
  12. Ruiz-Reig, N, Andres, B, Lamonerie, T, Theil, T, Fairén, A, Studer, M et al.. The caudo-ventral pallium is a novel pallial domain expressing Gdf10 and generating Ebf3-positive neurons of the medial amygdala. Brain Struct Funct. 2018;223 (7):3279-3295. doi: 10.1007/s00429-018-1687-0. PubMed PMID:29869132 .
  13. Bertacchi, M, Parisot, J, Studer, M. The pleiotropic transcriptional regulator COUP-TFI plays multiple roles in neural development and disease. Brain Res. 2019;1705 :75-94. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.04.024. PubMed PMID:29709504 .
  14. Ruiz-Reig, N, Studer, M. Rostro-Caudal and Caudo-Rostral Migrations in the Telencephalon: Going Forward or Backward?. Front Neurosci. 2017;11 :692. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00692. PubMed PMID:29311773 PubMed Central PMC5742585.
  15. Odelin, G, Faure, E, Coulpier, F, Di Bonito, M, Bajolle, F, Studer, M et al.. Krox20 defines a subpopulation of cardiac neural crest cells contributing to arterial valves and bicuspid aortic valve. Development. 2018;145 (1):. doi: 10.1242/dev.151944. PubMed PMID:29158447 .
  16. Parisot, J, Flore, G, Bertacchi, M, Studer, M. COUP-TFI mitotically regulates production and migration of dentate granule cells and modulates hippocampal Cxcr4 expression. Development. 2017;144 (11):2045-2058. doi: 10.1242/dev.139949. PubMed PMID:28506990 .
  17. Di Bonito, M, Studer, M, Puelles, L. Nuclear derivatives and axonal projections originating from rhombomere 4 in the mouse hindbrain. Brain Struct Funct. 2017;222 (8):3509-3542. doi: 10.1007/s00429-017-1416-0. PubMed PMID:28470551 PubMed Central PMC5676809.
  18. Di Bonito, M, Studer, M. Cellular and Molecular Underpinnings of Neuronal Assembly in the Central Auditory System during Mouse Development. Front Neural Circuits. 2017;11 :18. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2017.00018. PubMed PMID:28469562 PubMed Central PMC5395578.
  19. Glasco, DM, Pike, W, Qu, Y, Reustle, L, Misra, K, Di Bonito, M et al.. The atypical cadherin Celsr1 functions non-cell autonomously to block rostral migration of facial branchiomotor neurons in mice. Dev Biol. 2016;417 (1):40-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.07.004. PubMed PMID:27395006 PubMed Central PMC5007083.
  20. Tonchev, AB, Tuoc, TC, Rosenthal, EH, Studer, M, Stoykova, A. Zbtb20 modulates the sequential generation of neuronal layers in developing cortex. Mol Brain. 2016;9 (1):65. doi: 10.1186/s13041-016-0242-2. PubMed PMID:27282384 PubMed Central PMC4901408.
Search PubMed

A joint PhD position in Neuroscience is available at the University of Turin (UNITO) and the University Côte d’Azur (UCA) within the framework of the Vinci Program 2020 (Università Italo-Francese/Université Franco-Italienne).

We are seeking for a highly motivated candidate, strongly interested in Experimental Neuroscience and Molecular Neurobiology and dedicated to high quality research. The research project deals with the identification of molecular mechanisms controlling mitochondrial function in postnatal neurogenic niches and their implication in cognitive disorders.

The project will focus on the mitochondrial dysfunction caused by deficiency of the transcriptional regulator Nr2f1 (also known as COUP-TFI) and will address the downstream target genes crucial for mitochondrial function and investigate its outcome on neuronal plasticity and function. Patients with NR2F1 haploinsufficiency     have     mild     to      severe      neurodevelopmental      cognitive      disorders,      such as intellectual deficiency, epilepsy, learning and language impairments. The final goal is to unravel the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which Nr2f1 controls mitochondrial function in neurons and how this is correlated with proper cognitive behavior.

The project will combine multiple methodologies ranging from gold-standard neuroanatomical approaches to advanced techniques, such as tissue clearing, light-sheet microscopy and 3D whole-brain reconstruction, and two-photon functional imaging, as well as genome-wide and in silico analyses and animal behavior.

The successful candidate will enroll as a PhD student in Neuroscience at the University of Turin under the co- direction of Prof. Silvia De Marchis and Dr. Michèle Studer. The candidate needs to have good communication skills in English and willing to work in Italy and France since the project will be carried out in the “Adult Neurogenesis” group at the Neuroscience Institute Cavalieri Ottolenghi at UNITO and in the “Development and Function of Brain Circuits” group at UCA.

The call will open on May 20, 2021 on the UNITO website (deadline for mid-June, 2021 – check the exact deadline on the platform) and the starting date of the PhD program is November 1st, 2021. The position is fully financed for four years.

General information on the organization and activities of the PhD Program can be found on the PhD in Neuroscience website (

If interested, please contact silvia.demarchis@unito and by including an updated and detailed CV and a motivation letter.


Relevant publications:

Bonzano S, Crisci I, Podlesny-Drabiniok A, Rolando C, Krezel W, Studer M, De Marchis S. Neuron- Astroglia Cell Fate Decision in the Adult Mouse Hippocampal Neurogenic Niche Is Cell-Intrinsically Controlled by COUP-TFI In Vivo. Cell Rep. 2018 Jul 10;24(2):329-341. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.06.044.

Flore G, Di Ruberto G, Parisot J, Sannino S, Russo F, Illingworth EA, Studer M, De Leonibus E. Gradient COUP-TFI Expression Is Required for Functional Organization of the Hippocampal Septo-Temporal Longitudinal Axis. Cereb Cortex. 2017 Feb 1;27(2):1629-1643. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv336. PMID: 26813976.

Beckervordersandforth R. Mitochondrial Metabolism-Mediated Regulation of Adult Neurogenesis. Brain Plast. 2017 Nov 9;3(1):73-87. doi: 10.3233/BPL-170044.

2015 - Equipe labélisée - FRM

2011 - Equipe labélisée - FRM

2009 - Senior Chaire d’Excellence - ANR

1997 - MRC (Medical Research Council) Career Development Award (UK)

1994 - EU Fellowship

1993 - EMBO Fellowship

iBV - Institut de Biologie Valrose

"Centre de Biochimie"

Université Nice Sophia Antipolis
Faculté des Sciences
Parc Valrose
06108 Nice cedex 2