Vincenzo Romano

Research Experiences

(Rahmati, Owens et al. 2014, Romano, De Propris et al. 2018, Negrello, Warnaar et al. 2019, Betting, Romano et al. 2020, Romano, Reddington et al. 2020, Lindeman, Hong et al. 2021, Romano, Zhai et al. 2022)

Betting, J. L. F., et al. (2020). "WhiskEras: A New Algorithm for Accurate Whisker Tracking." Front Cell Neurosci 14: 588445.

Rodents engage in active touch using their facial whiskers: they explore their environment by making rapid back-and-forth movements. The fast nature of whisker movements, during which whiskers often cross each other, makes it notoriously difficult to track individual whiskers of the intact whisker field. We present here a novel algorithm, WhiskEras, for tracking of whisker movements in high-speed videos of untrimmed mice, without requiring labeled data. WhiskEras consists of a pipeline of image-processing steps: first, the points that form the whisker centerlines are detected with sub-pixel accuracy. Then, these points are clustered in order to distinguish individual whiskers. Subsequently, the whiskers are parameterized so that a single whisker can be described by four parameters. The last step consists of tracking individual whiskers over time. We describe that WhiskEras performs better than other whisker-tracking algorithms on several metrics. On our four video segments, WhiskEras detected more whiskers per frame than the Biotact Whisker Tracking Tool. The signal-to-noise ratio of the output of WhiskEras was higher than that of Janelia Whisk. As a result, the correlation between reflexive whisker movements and cerebellar Purkinje cell activity appeared to be stronger than previously found using other tracking algorithms. We conclude that WhiskEras facilitates the study of sensorimotor integration by markedly improving the accuracy of whisker tracking in untrimmed mice.

Lindeman, S., et al. (2021). "Cerebellar Purkinje cells can differentially modulate coherence between sensory and motor cortex depending on region and behavior." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 118(2).

Activity of sensory and motor cortices is essential for sensorimotor integration. In particular, coherence between these areas may indicate binding of critical functions like perception, motor planning, action, or sleep. Evidence is accumulating that cerebellar output modulates cortical activity and coherence, but how, when, and where it does so is unclear. We studied activity in and coherence between S1 and M1 cortices during whisker stimulation in the absence and presence of optogenetic Purkinje cell stimulation in crus 1 and 2 of awake mice, eliciting strong simple spike rate modulation. Without Purkinje cell stimulation, whisker stimulation triggers fast responses in S1 and M1 involving transient coherence in a broad spectrum. Simultaneous stimulation of Purkinje cells and whiskers affects amplitude and kinetics of sensory responses in S1 and M1 and alters the estimated S1-M1 coherence in theta and gamma bands, allowing bidirectional control dependent on behavioral context. These effects are absent when Purkinje cell activation is delayed by 20 ms. Focal stimulation of Purkinje cells revealed site specificity, with cells in medial crus 2 showing the most prominent and selective impact on estimated coherence, i.e., a strong suppression in the gamma but not the theta band. Granger causality analyses and computational modeling of the involved networks suggest that Purkinje cells control S1-M1 phase consistency predominantly via ventrolateral thalamus and M1. Our results indicate that activity of sensorimotor cortices can be dynamically and functionally modulated by specific cerebellar inputs, highlighting a widespread role of the cerebellum in coordinating sensorimotor behavior.

Negrello, M., et al. (2019). "Quasiperiodic rhythms of the inferior olive." PLoS Comput Biol 15(5): e1006475.

Inferior olivary activity causes both short-term and long-term changes in cerebellar output underlying motor performance and motor learning. Many of its neurons engage in coherent subthreshold oscillations and are extensively coupled via gap junctions. Studies in reduced preparations suggest that these properties promote rhythmic, synchronized output. However, the interaction of these properties with torrential synaptic inputs in awake behaving animals is not well understood. Here we combine electrophysiological recordings in awake mice with a realistic tissue-scale computational model of the inferior olive to study the relative impact of intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms governing its activity. Our data and model suggest that if subthreshold oscillations are present in the awake state, the period of these oscillations will be transient and variable. Accordingly, by using different temporal patterns of sensory stimulation, we found that complex spike rhythmicity was readily evoked but limited to short intervals of no more than a few hundred milliseconds and that the periodicity of this rhythmic activity was not fixed but dynamically related to the synaptic input to the inferior olive as well as to motor output. In contrast, in the long-term, the average olivary spiking activity was not affected by the strength and duration of the sensory stimulation, while the level of gap junctional coupling determined the stiffness of the rhythmic activity in the olivary network during its dynamic response to sensory modulation. Thus, interactions between intrinsic properties and extrinsic inputs can explain the variations of spiking activity of olivary neurons, providing a temporal framework for the creation of both the short-term and long-term changes in cerebellar output.

Rahmati, N., et al. (2014). "Cerebellar potentiation and learning a whisker-based object localization task with a time response window." J Neurosci 34(5): 1949-1962.

Whisker-based object localization requires activation and plasticity of somatosensory and motor cortex. These parts of the cerebral cortex receive strong projections from the cerebellum via the thalamus, but it is unclear whether and to what extent cerebellar processing may contribute to such a sensorimotor task. Here, we subjected knock-out mice, which suffer from impaired intrinsic plasticity in their Purkinje cells and long-term potentiation at their parallel fiber-to-Purkinje cell synapses (L7-PP2B), to an object localization task with a time response window (RW). Water-deprived animals had to learn to localize an object with their whiskers, and based upon this location they were trained to lick within a particular period ("go" trial) or refrain from licking ("no-go" trial). L7-PP2B mice were not ataxic and showed proper basic motor performance during whisking and licking, but were severely impaired in learning this task compared with wild-type littermates. Significantly fewer L7-PP2B mice were able to learn the task at long RWs. Those L7-PP2B mice that eventually learned the task made unstable progress, were significantly slower in learning, and showed deficiencies in temporal tuning. These differences became greater as the RW became narrower. Trained wild-type mice, but not L7-PP2B mice, showed a net increase in simple spikes and complex spikes of their Purkinje cells during the task. We conclude that cerebellar processing, and potentiation in particular, can contribute to learning a whisker-based object localization task when timing is relevant. This study points toward a relevant role of cerebellum-cerebrum interaction in a sophisticated cognitive task requiring strict temporal processing.

Romano, V., et al. (2018). "Potentiation of cerebellar Purkinje cells facilitates whisker reflex adaptation through increased simple spike activity." Elife 7.

Cerebellar plasticity underlies motor learning. However, how the cerebellum operates to enable learned changes in motor output is largely unknown. We developed a sensory-driven adaptation protocol for reflexive whisker protraction and recorded Purkinje cell activity from crus 1 and 2 of awake mice. Before training, simple spikes of individual Purkinje cells correlated during reflexive protraction with the whisker position without lead or lag. After training, simple spikes and whisker protractions were both enhanced with the spiking activity now leading behavioral responses. Neuronal and behavioral changes did not occur in two cell-specific mouse models with impaired long-term potentiation at their parallel fiber to Purkinje cell synapses. Consistent with cerebellar plasticity rules, increased simple spike activity was prominent in cells with low complex spike response probability. Thus, potentiation at parallel fiber to Purkinje cell synapses may contribute to reflex adaptation and enable expression of cerebellar learning through increases in simple spike activity.

Romano, V., et al. (2020). "Functional Convergence of Autonomic and Sensorimotor Processing in the Lateral Cerebellum." Cell Rep 32(1): 107867.

The cerebellum is involved in the control of voluntary and autonomic rhythmic behaviors, yet it is unclear to what extent it coordinates these in concert. We studied Purkinje cell activity during unperturbed and perturbed respiration in lobules simplex, crus 1, and crus 2. During unperturbed (eupneic) respiration, complex spike and simple spike activity encode the phase of ongoing sensorimotor processing. In contrast, when the respiratory cycle is perturbed by whisker stimulation, mice concomitantly protract their whiskers and advance their inspiration in a phase-dependent manner, preceded by increased simple spike activity. This phase advancement of respiration in response to whisker stimulation can be mimicked by optogenetic stimulation of Purkinje cells and prevented by cell-specific genetic modification of their AMPA receptors, hampering increased simple spike firing. Thus, the impact of Purkinje cell activity on respiratory control is context and phase dependent, highlighting a coordinating role for the cerebellar hemispheres in aligning autonomic and sensorimotor behaviors.

Romano, V., et al. (2022). "Olivocerebellar control of movement symmetry." Curr Biol 32(3): 654-670 e654.

Coordination of bilateral movements is essential for a large variety of animal behaviors. The olivocerebellar system is critical for the control of movement, but its role in bilateral coordination has yet to be elucidated. Here, we examined whether Purkinje cells encode and influence synchronicity of left-right whisker movements. We found that complex spike activity is correlated with a prominent left-right symmetry of spontaneous whisker movements within parts, but not all, of Crus1 and Crus2. Optogenetic stimulation of climbing fibers in the areas with high and low correlations resulted in symmetric and asymmetric whisker movements, respectively. Moreover, when simple spike frequency prior to the complex spike was higher, the complex spike-related symmetric whisker protractions were larger. This finding alludes to a role for rebound activity in the cerebellar nuclei, which indeed turned out to be enhanced during symmetric protractions. Tracer injections suggest that regions associated with symmetric whisker movements are anatomically connected to the contralateral cerebellar hemisphere. Together, these data point toward the existence of modules on both sides of the cerebellar cortex that can differentially promote or reduce the symmetry of left and right movements in a context-dependent fashion.