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Dr Elisa Galliano

My lab focuses on how developing neural networks are formed, how they plastically modify, and how such plasticity impacts behaviour.
Dr Elisa Galliano


Elisa Galliano is accepting applications for PhD students.


Elisa trained in Italy at the University of Pavia (BSc Biology, MSc Neurobiology) with Egidio D’Angelo as a cellular electrophysiologist, where her first interest has been investigating the cerebellar computation at a cellular and synaptic level. For her graduate studies she then moved to Chris De Zeeuw’s laboratory in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where she received a complete training in cellular, system and behavioural neuroscience. Thanks to a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship, she then spent four years investigating experience-driven plasticity in bulbar dopaminergic interneurons and the effects of such plastic modifications on the first synapse in olfaction and on olfactory behaviour in Matthew Grubb's lab (King’s College London) and Venki Murthy's lab (Harvard University). In May 2018 she started her lab at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

Research Interests

 Neuronal plasticity

Schematic representation of the lab focus: we study the interactions between organisms and the environment, and how neuronal plasticity is shaped by and shapes them.

The ability of nerve cells to plastically modify themselves is one of the characteristics that make the brain millions of times more powerful and capable of learning than any supercomputer. I am particularly interested in the ways in which, during both development and adulthood, the brain responds to sensory stimuli and uses such experiences to flexibly modify itself at a cellular level. This process, called neuronal plasticity, is fundamental, as it is thought to be the molecular basis of behaviours such as network development, learning, memory, and sensory processing.

The lab’s main aim is to further study the different types of neuronal plasticity during adulthood and development, how they combine within individual cells at different stages of their lifetime, and how they impact on network processing as a whole. To this end, we take an integrated approach to interrogate olfactory and cerebellar circuits at both the cellular and systems level, with a range of cutting-edge (i.e. optogenetics, chemogenetics and calcium imaging) and well-established technologies (i.e. electrophysiology and morphological techniques).


Dopaminergic heterogeneity

Although dopaminergic (DA) neurons are only a minority of brain cells, their impact on behaviour is substantial. Indeed, they contribute to reward-motivated and motor behaviours, and their impairment has been linked to numerous diseases. Recent studies have highlighted an extreme heterogeneity of morphology, physiology and connectivity among this rather small dopaminergic population, raising the question of whether these neurons have anything else in common besides dopamine itself. To answer this question we plan to take a holistic approach to compare features of dopaminergic populations across different brain areas. Specifically we want to compare the canonical midbrain dopaminergic cells with the relatively understudied group of dopaminergic neurons in the olfactory bulb, some members of which retain the striking ability to regenerate throughout life.


morphological heterogeneity of bulbar dopaminergic neurons (Adapted from Galliano et al, eLife 2018)

Public engagement, outreach and widening participation

The lab throwing an olfactory cocktail party at Cambridge Science week 2018.
The lab is highly invested in engaging the public with our research, and strives to ever increase the quality of our outreach activities. Elisa is currently a member of the FENS Glasgow 2020 Host Society Committee, which among other things will organise and coordinate the outreach activities during the meeting.

We are also extremely active in providing mentorship to bright young students from unprivileged backgrounds. Since 2014 Elisa has been a tutor with the charity The Brilliant Club, and has helped hosting students for the in2science program.





Lab members

Samuel White - PhD student (

Maggy Lau - MPhil Student (

Sana Gadiwalla - Visiting MSc Student (

Joe Hilton - Undergraduate/Part II student (


Lab alumni

2018/19: Tessa Bienfait & Gaia Bianchini (Erasmus+ Master Students); Harry Bestwick, Yasmeen Cooper, Ben Grodzinski (PDN Part II Students, Medics)




Susan Jones (PDN) – dopaminergic heterogeneity

Steve Edgley (PDN) – cerebellar learning

Tim O'Leary (Engineering) - homeostatic plasticity

Alexander Mathis (Harvard University) – olfactory learning



PDN Part II – Module N4 – Olfactory physiology

PDN Part II – Module N9 - Plasticity in sensory and motor systems

PDN MVST Part IB - Neuroanatomy

PDN NST Part IB - Brain histology

Part IA - Physiology of Organisms - Sensing the Environment


Current preprints

Galliano E, Hahn C, Browne L, Rodriguez Villamayor P and Grubb MS. (2020) Brief sensory deprivation triggers cell type-specific structural and functional plasticity in olfactory bulb neurons

Key Publications

Galliano E, Franzoni E, Breton M, Chand AN, Byrne DJ, Murthy VN, Grubb MS. (2018) Embryonic and postnatal neurogenesis produce functionally distinct subclasses of dopaminergic neuron. eLife, 7:e32373 doi: 10.7554/eLife.323. Shared corresponding author.

Galliano E, Schonewille M, Peter S, Rutteman M, Houtman S, Jaarsma D, Hoebeek FE, De Zeeuw CI (2018) Impact of NMDA Receptor Overexpression on Cerebellar Purkinje Cell Activity and Motor Learning. eNeuro, ENEURO.0270-17.2018; Shared corresponding author.

Chand AN, Galliano E, Chesters RA, Grubb MS (2015) A distinct subtype of dopaminergic interneuron displays inverted structural plasticity at the axon initial segment. J Neuroscience, 35(4):1573-90.

Galliano E, De Zeeuw CI. (2014) Questioning the cerebellar doctrine. In Progress in Brain Research, Cerebellar Learning Volume, 210:59-77. Book chapter.

Galliano E, Gao Z, Schonewille M, Todorov B, Simons E, Pop A, D'Angelo E, van den Maagdenberg AM, Hoebeek F, De Zeeuw CI. (2013) Silencing the majority of cerebellar granule cells uncovers their essential role in motor learning and consolidation. Cell Reports, Apr 25;3(4):1239-51

Galliano E, Potters JW, Elgersma Y, Wisden W, Kushner SA, De Zeeuw CI, Hoebeek FE (2013) Synaptic transmission and plasticity at inputs to murine cerebellar Purkinje cells are largely dispensable for standard non-motor tasks. J Neuroscience, Jul 31;33(31):12599-618.


Plain English

The ability of nerve cells to modify themselves in a process called neuronal plasticity is one of the characteristics that make the brain millions of times more powerful and capable of learning than any supercomputer. Our lab is particularly interested in the ways in which, during both development and adulthood, the brain responds to sensory stimuli from the environment and uses such experiences to plastically modify itself at a cellular level. We study this process by looking at neurons in the olfactory circuits, who are responsible for our perception of smell.

Above: Synaptic events and action potentials recoded in a dopaminergic neuron in an acute olfactory bulb slice from a DAT-tdTomato mouse.

Above: Chronic in vivo calcium imaging ober the olfactory bulb of an adult DAT-GCaMP6s mouse. The calcium indicator GCamP6s is expressed in dopaminergic neurons in the glomerular layer, which strongly respond when the mouse is presented with an odour.