Photo of Natalina Salmaso

Natalina Salmaso

Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neurobiology

Phone:6135202600 Ext.8134
Office:5312 Health Sciences Building

Areas of Specialization / Field Affiliations

  • Neurogenesis neuroplasticity, stressors, brain injury and cognitive delay.

Eligible to supervise at the undergraduate and graduate level.

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Area of Research

Astroglia, Development & Plasticity

In general, work in my laboratory focuses on postnatal development and plasticity across the lifespan, both in non-pathological states and in mental illnesses such as anxiety and mood disorders. In particular, I am interested in the role of astroglial cells in these events, both typical “star-shaped” protoplasmic astrocytes, and astroglial stem cells. Even though astroglia are one of the most abundant cell types in the brain (there are 1.4 astroglia to each neuron in the human brain), the contributory role of astroglial cells has traditionally been overlooked in developmental models of mental illness and disease. This oversight is remarkable considering that astroglial cells play crucial roles in neurotransmitter metabolism, response to injury, synaptic connectivity, and function as neural stem cells. We explore the functional roles of astroglial cells from very basic in vitro models, to whole organism behavioral models, and ultimately, bringing it back to the clinic by exploring human correlates and clinical observations in related patient populations. Some examples of the projects that I am currently focused on are:

Astroglia in risk and resilience
Why do some very premature babies fare well, whereas others are plagued with psychological and neurological disorders throughout their childhood and beyond? Given a similar “risk” for a mental illness (genetic, environmental or both), many individuals show “resilience” and live illness-free. In collaboration with Dr. Flora Vaccarino, I employ a rodent postnatal hypoxia paradigm that models very premature human births. We have shown that enriched environment (toys, social stimulation and exercise) can improve the developmental trajectory and outcome from this injury (resilience). I am now examining the contributory role of maternal care during recovery, and examining astroglia and related molecules associated with differential outcomes.
In a second line of research I am interested in a particular protein, fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) that is synthesized by astrocytes and is also a potent mitogen of astrocytes. FGF2 is associated with anxiety behavior in rodents and mood/anxiety disorders in humans, and we are currently studying the mechanisms by which FGF2 may modulate these behaviors during early development, and its association with maternal care.

Astroglia, Gender &  Hormones across the Lifespan
I am also interested in the contributory roles of hormones and reproductive states on astroglial expression patterns and function within the cerebral cortex and hippocampus and how this is related to behavioral changes such as the onset of maternal behavior and learning and memory.

Selected Publications:

Salmaso N, Jablonska B, Scafidi J, Vaccarino FM, Gallo V. (2014) Neurobiology of premature brain injury. Nat Neurosci. 2014 Mar;17(3):341-6. doi: 10.1038/nn.3604. Epub 2014 Feb 25. Review.

Salmaso N, Tomasi S, Vaccarino FM. (2014) Neurogenesis and maturation in neonatal brain injury. Clin Perinatol. 2014 Mar;41(1):229-39. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2013.10.007. Epub 2013 Dec 15.

Komitova M, Xenos D, Salmaso N, Tran KM, Brand T, Schwartz ML, Ment L, Vaccarino FM. (2013) Hypoxia-induced developmental delays of inhibitory interneurons are reversed by environmental enrichment in the postnatal mouse forebrain. J Neurosci. 2013 Aug 14;33(33):13375-87.

Salmaso, N., Silbereis, J., Komitova, M., Mitchell, P., Chapman, K., Ment, L.R., Schwartz, M.L., Vaccarino, F.M. (2012) Environmental enrichment increases the astroglial stem cell pool and reverses hypoxia-induced cognitive deficits in juvenile mice. J Neurosci  2012 Jun27;32: 8930-9

Bi, B-1,Salmaso, N-1, Komitova, M-1., Simonini, M.V., Silbereis, J., Cheng, E., Kim, J., Luft, S., Ment, L.R., Horvath, T.L., Schwartz, M.L., Vaccarino, F.M. Cortical glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive cells generate neurons after perinatal hypoxic injury. J Neurosci. 2011 Jun 22;31(25):9205-21.

Salmaso N., Vaccarino, F.M. Towards a novel endogenous anxiolytic factor, fibroblast growth factor 2. Biol Psych. 2011 Mar 15 69(6), 509-9.

Salmaso N., Cossette, M.P., Woodside, B.. Pregnancy and lactation induced changes in glutamate and astrocytic glutamate metabolism within the cingulate cortex. Plos One, 2011.

Salmaso, N., Woodside, B. (2006) Upregulation of astrocytic basic fibroblast growth factor in the cingulate cortex of lactating rats: Time course and role of suckling stimulation. Hormones and Behavior, 50(3), 448-53.