I have a longstanding interest in understanding the functional significance of the responses elicited by sudden and intense stimuli in the human brain. I provided a novel interpretatio n of the functional significance of the “pain matrix” responses – that they largely reflect a system involved in detecting, processing and reacting to the occurrence of salient sensory events, regardless of the sensory channel through which these events are conveyed. Such a multimodal neural system subserves detection, attentional reorientation and motor reaction to potential threats to the integrity of the body. These results have strongly influenced the way scientists use functional neuroimaging to investigate pain in humans. Following up these results, my group is using novel analysis techniques to identify specific neural signatures of somatosensory perception, pain (e.g. the gamma band oscillations in the primary somatosensory cortex) and saliency detection. In addition, we recently demonstrated the existence of a 'defensive peripersonal space' representing a safety margin advantageous for survival. We are also interested in the spatial properties of the nociceptive system (discovering, for example, that a 'fove for pain' exists on the fingertips), and in the interactions between tactile and nociceptive systems.
I lead a multidisciplinary research group that combines psychophysics and various laboratory techniques (from electromyography to functional MRI) to provide a readout of the function of the human nervous system at different levels.
After a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Rome (2003) and a post-doc at the University of Oxford (2003-2006), in 2006 I was awarded a Royal Society University Fellowship and started my own research group. In 2009 I moved to University College London (UCL), where I am Reader in Human Neuroscience. I have been recently selected as the recipient of the 2012 Patrick Wall Young Investigator Award from the IASP.