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Group leader:  Giancarlo Panzica


Main goal
The central focus of our researches is the study of the interactions among steroids and nervous circuits. Our previous studies have clarified the role of early exposure to gonadal hormones in the differentiation of sexually dimorphic circuits and behaviors in birds and mammals.

Experimental models
Our main model is the sexual behavior and the neural circuits that are controlling this behavior. Many of these circuits are, in turn, sexually dimorphic and their differentiations is due to the exposure to the correct steroid hormone during a particular period of life called critical period.

In birds and mammals, this effect is largely due to the intracerebral conversion of testosterone into estradiol via the enzyme aromatase. For this reason we have studied for a long time the cerebral distribution and activation of this enzyme, in particular in the avian brain.

However, contrary to other neural systems, the aromatase producing system does not show a strong dimorphism. Therefore, we have investigated, in turn, several neural systems, focussing on the sexually dimorphic vasotocin/vasopressin system and the nitrinergic system.

A large number of studies illustrated that the production of estradiol within the brain is only part of a more widely diffused molecular mechanisms of synthesis of steroids (so called neurosteroids) within the brain. Neuroactive steroids are important not only for the sexual differentiation of the brain, but also for neural plasticity, differentiation and regeneration.

The discovery of the involvement of neuroactive steroids in several physiological activities, implies that minimal alterations of steroid levels, or exposure to exogenous chemicals that can bind to steroids' receptors can have long term effects on animal and human health. The study of the effects of steroids on the nervous system has therefore high potential therapeutic perspectives.

Our lines of researches point in four directions:

  • Role of androgen and estrogen receptors in the differentiation of sexually dimorphic circuits using spontaneous rat and mouse mutants called tfm, characterized by a mutation of the androgen receptor.
  • Effects of xenoestrogen and xenoandrogen exposure on the differentiation of brain circuits and behavior.
  • Interactions of neurosteroids and vasopressin in the control of social behaviors, in particular in the ethiology of depression.
  • Short- and long-term effects of neurosteroids on adult neurogenesis.

These research themes are devoted to the better understanding of the relationships among steroids, nervous system and behaviors. Our results will be useful for therapeutical applications in the field of neural regeneration, as well as in the field of food and environment safety and the prevention of important pathologies as alterations of reproductive physiology or obesity.

Experimental approaches

  • Morphological and immunocytochemical analysis of the nervous system, with special reference to vasopressin, nNOS and serotonin systems.
  • Use of transgenic and KO models.
  • Quantitative analyses of brain regions.
  • Behavioral analysis, with special reference to sexual behavior, aggressive behavior, anxiety and food consuming behavior.

International Meeting
Torino - February 16 th -20 th , 2019

Editorial activity of the group
> Special Issues

ChemicalWatch, July 2015
Experts endorse Parma consensus on ‘metabolic disruptors’

Services and Products for preclinical proof of concepts

Our spinoff provides scientific expertise, animal models, equipment and facilities to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device Companies and to Research Centers for proof–of-concept or pilot in vivo studies.


Food, gut and brain: a new challenge to understand nervous system diseases?

Journal of Neuroendocrinology, February 2018
Steroids, stress and the gut microbiome-brain axis

Nutrients, May 2018
Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge

24 may 2018

Post-finasteride syndrome and post-SSRI sexual dysfunction: two sides of the same coin?

Endrocrine , April 2018
Giatti S, Diviccaro S, Panzica G, Melcangi RC

23 may 2018

Sex Steroids and Adult Neurogenesis in the Ventricular-Subventricular Zone

Frontiers in Endocrinology , April 2018 - Review
G Ponti, A Farinetti, M Marraudino, G Panzica, S Gotti

9 april 2018

Kisspeptin innervation of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus: sexual dimorphism and effect of estrous cycle in female mice

Journal of Anatomy , March 2017
Marraudino M, Miceli D, Farinetti A, Ponti G, Panzica G, Gotti S

28 april 2017

Early postnatal genistein administration permanently affects nitrergic and vasopressinergic systems in a sex-specific way

Neuroscience , March 2017
G. Ponti, A. Rodriguez-Gomez, A. Farinetti, M. Marraudino, F. Filice, B. Foglio, G. Sciacca, G.C. Panzica, S. Gotti

18 february 2017

Neuroendocrinology 1/2017

NADPH-Diaphorase Colocalizes with GPER and Is Modulated by the GPER Agonist G1 in the Supraoptic and Paraventricular Nuclei of Ovariectomized Female Rats
Grassi D., Lagunas N., Pinos H, Panzica G.C., Garcia-Segura L.M., Collado P.

1 february 2017

Metabolism Disrupting Chemicals and Metabolic Disorders

Reproductive Toxicology, October 2016
The recent epidemics of metabolic diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes(T2D), liver lipid disorders and metabolic syndrome have largely been attributed to genetic background and changes in diet, exercise and aging. However, there is now considerable evidence that other environmental factors may contribute to the rapid increase in the incidence of these metabolic diseases.

23 october 2016

Science-based regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals in Europe: which approach?

The Lancet: Diabetology and Endocrinology
Bourguignon J-P, Slama R, Bergman A, Demeneix B, Ivell R, Kortenkamp A, Panzica G, Trasande L, Zoeller R.T.

13 june 2016