Arianna Maffei

Arianna Maffeir

Ph.D., University of Pavia

Phone: (631) 632-3244
Fax: (631) 632-6661


Arianna Maffei graduated in Biology from the University of Pavia (Italy) in 1997 and received a Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Pavia in 2001. She was a postdoctoral scholar at Brandeis University from 2002 to 2008. In 2008, she joined the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook and became Associate Professor in 2014.

Dr. Maffei is an associate editor for Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience and The Journal of Neuroscience, and is a member of the editorial board of iScience.  She is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS).

Research Interests/Expertise

Laboratory of neural circuits and plasticity

What happens in the brain when we experience the world or learn something new?

Our goal is to unveil how experience and learning modify the connectivity and excitability of neuronal circuits and how these changes affect behavior. Much of our work focuses on how inhibitory transmission and plasticity sculpts cortical activity, and on the integration of excitation and inhibition in distinct neuron groups and circuits.

To gain information about general principles guiding the ability of neural circuits to respond to experience and learning, we perform our studies in three cortical regions that differ in anatomical organization and driving input: gustatory, visual and motor cortices. In addition to investigating healthy brain circuits, we apply our studies to animal models of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders to assess which aspects of neural circuit activity may be aletered in pathological conditions.

We use manipulation of sensory drive, pharmacological, optogenetic or chemogenetic manipulations of specific neuron groups and/or behavioral training to perturb activity and analyze of circuits respond to change using behavioral analysis, electrophysiology in acute slice preparation and in vivo as well as calcium imaging.

Ongoing projects

Experience and learning in the gustatory cortex

The gustatory cortex receives prominent inputs from the gustatory thalamus, carrying information about the chemosensory identity of a tastant and from the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala, which informs about the hedonic value of a tastant. Indeed, something we eat is perceived by its taste, as well as whether its pleasant or aversive value. We are interested in understanding the synaptic basis for this perception. To do that, we are analyzing the synaptic organization and plasticity of amygdalocortical and thalamocortical inputs onto excitatory and GABAergic inhibitory neurons in the gustatory cortex.

We also use a well-established learning paradigm known as conditioned taste aversion (CTA) that renders unpleasant a previously pleasant taste without altering its chemosensory identity, to determine how CTA learning affects the activity of single neurons and circuits in the gustatory cortex. Our goal is to identify the synaptic changes induced by learning and the components of the circuit that support a change in perception.

In addition, we investigate the mechanisms underlying the postnatal maturation processes of the circuit in the gustatory cortex to determine whether early life diet influences cortical development and food preferences in adulthood. This work has important implications both for our understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders, some of which are associated with poor nutrition in early development, and for investigating the neural basis of eating disorders.

Visual cortical plasticity during postnatal development

Alterations of visual experience, e.g. congenital cataracts or misaligned eyes, affect the organization of the visual cortical circuit and the synaptic properties of thalamocortical and intracortical connections and lead to visual defects that, if uncorrected early in life, become permanent. Our work together with that of other groups, demonstrated an important role for GABAergic inhibitory synapses in the experience-dependent reorganization of visual cortical circuits. Ongoing studies in the lab are aimed at investigating how GABAergic circuits regulate activity at intracortical and thalamocortical synapses. Specifically, we are interested in unveiling the functional role of a presynaptic and extrasynaptic GABAA receptor that we recently identified on thalamocortical and GABAergic terminals. This work has important implications for understanding how experience sculpts neural circuits and for determining how GABAergic circuits influence cortical development and function.

Dopaminergic modulation of cortical circuits: primary motor cortex

Our analysis of thalamocortical and intracortical circuits extends to the primary motor cortex, where we examine the effects of loss of dopaminergic modulation on single neuron and network activity. We are particularly interested in the effect of loss of dopamine on motor cortex neurons and their synapses. Loss of dopaminergic modulation in the motor circuit is a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. Evidence from human studies shows altered motor cortex activity following dopamine neurons loss. We are interested in examining whether such changes in motor cortex neuron activity depend on changes in the thalamocortical input onto them, on changes intrinsic to the motor cortex circuit or a combination of these factors.

  • Recent Publications
  • Laboratory Personnel
    • L. Wang, M.L. Kloc, E. Maher, A. Erisir and A. Maffei (2018) Presynaptic GABAA receptors at thalamocortical synapses in rat V1. Cereb. Cortex, 1:16. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhx364.
    • M. Chavali, M. Klingener, A. Kokkosis, Y. Garkun, A. Maffei and A. Aguirre (2018) Non-Canonical Wnt Signaling Regulates Neural Stem Cell Quiescence During Homeostasis and After Demyelination. Nature Comm. 9(1):36.
    • A. Maffei (2017) LTP and LTD. Oxford Encyclopedia of Neuroscience
    • A. Maffei, C. Charrier, M. Caiati, A. Barberis, V. Mahadevan, M.A. Woodin and S. Tyagarajan (2017) Emerging mechanisms underlying dynamics of GABAergic synapses. J. Neurosci. 37(45):10792-10799
    • M.S. Haley and A. Maffei (2017) Versatility and flexibility of cortical circuits. The Neuroscientist, 24(5):456-470. doi: 10.1177/1073858417733720
    • R. Tatti, M.S. Haley, O.K. Swanson, T. Tselha and A. Maffei (2017) Neurophysiology and regulation of the balance between excitation and inhibition in neocortical circuits. Biological Psychiatry, 81: 821-31.
    • R. Tatti, O. Swanson, M. S. Lee and A. Maffei (2017) Layer-specific developmental changes in excitation and inhibition in rat primary visual cortex. eNeuro, 4(6). pii: ENEURO.0402-17.2017
    • T. Griffen, M. S. Haley, A. Fontanini and A. Maffei (2017) Rapid plasticity of visually evoked responses in rat monocular visual cortex. PLoS One, 12(9): e0184618
    • A. Maffei (2016) Fifty Shades of Inhibition. Curr. Op. Neurobiol. 43: 43-47.
    • M. Haley, A. Fontanini and A. Maffei (2016) Laminar and target-specific properties of amygdalar inputs to rat primary gustatory cortex. J. Neurosci. 36: 2623-37
    • F. Birey, M. Kloc, D. J. Christoffel, S. Russo, J. K. Robinson, A. Maffei and A. Aguirre (2015) NG2+ glial cells participate in normal brain physiology and the development of depressive-like behaviors. Neuron, 88: 941-956.
    • K.Krishnan, B.S.Wang, J.Lu, L.Wang, A. Maffei, J.Cang and J.Z.Huang (2015) MeCP2 regulates the maturation of GABA signaling and critical period plasticity that shape experience-dependent functional connectivity in primary visual cortex. PNAS, 112: 4782-91.
    • T.Griffen and A. Maffei (2014) Experience-dependent refinement: GABAergic synapses and their plasticity. Special Issue on GABAergic plasticity. Front. Cell. Neurosci. 8: 91 doi:10.3389/fncel.2014.00091
    • M.L. Kloc and A. Maffei (2014) Cell type-specific properties of thalamocortical inputs in rodent primary visual cortex. J. Neurosci. 34: 13455-65.
    • S.D. VanHooser, G.M.Escobar, A. Maffei and P. Miller. (2014) Emerging feedforward inhibition allows the robust formation of spatio-temporal response selectivity, including direction selectivity, in feedforward models of the developing cortex. J. Neurophys. 111: doi:10.1152/jn.00891.2013.
    • Y. Garkun and A. Maffei (2014) The time of eye opening regulates cannabinoid-dependent plasticity in rodent visual cortex. Front. Cell. Neurosci. 8:46. doi:10.3389/fncel.2014.00046
    • L. Wang and A. Maffei (2014) Inhibition dictates the sign of plasticity at excitatory synapses. J. Neurosci. 34: 1083-93
  • Melissa Haley - Postdoc
  • Hillary Schiff - Postdoc
  • Olivia Swanson - PhD candidate 
  • Julia Tomasello - Master student
  • Rosa Seeman - Undergraduate student
  • Stephen Bruno - Undergraduate student
  • David Richard - Undergraduate student

PubMed Link