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Study of brain plasticity induced by different types of change through neuroimaging

Research Center
Research Area


Dott.ssa Barbara Tomasino
Psychologist, Research Unit Coordinator
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Dott.ssa Carolina Bonivento
Psychologist, Researcher
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Dott.ssa Ilaria Guarracino
Psychologist, Researcher

Dott.ssa Elisa Cargnelutti
Biologist, Researcher


+39 0432 693199 - Laboratory



The aim of the Research Group is using Neuroimaging methods to study cortical and sub-cortical modifications induced by experimental manipulations, learning or training, a brain lesion or neurosurgical resection. The goal is: i) studying the mechanisms involved in several cognitive processing, e.g. language, visuo-motor abilities, in the healthy brain since cognitive neuro-rehabilitation is based on the knowledge of how does the healthy cognitive system work, ii) studying and detecting brain plasticity phenomena, or iii) preserving functional area during brain surgery in, children and adults neurosurgical cases.

Our research projects target the concept of flexibility of the sensorimotor network. Knowing how the activation of the sensorimotor cortex can be experimentally modulated will provide information and indicate that the functional aspect of an area is not automatic and fixes but flexible and modifiable, an aspect that results essential to neuro-rehabilitation. The sensorimotor cortex is a node of a network controlling the execution of voluntary movements and tactile sensations. By using different type of stimuli ( “bottom up”) or the strong influence that task instructions, or the strategies used to solve the task, can exert (“top-down”) we study how the sensorimotor network can be involved in cognitive functions such as imagery, visuo-motor transformations, empathy, emotion, working memory and language. To do so we use functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) to observe the modulatory effects of such variables on the activation of the sensorimotor network.

We use fMRI to study children and adults neurosurgical patients before and after brain surgery, and in the operatory room during awake surgery. The project is in collaboration with the Neurosurgical Department of the Udine Hospital.

The risk related to a brain surgery depends also on the spatial proximity of the lesion to functional areas involved in language, memory, motor control and so on.  The information revealed by fMRI may help the surgeon at verifying whether inside the lesion or in the surrounding area there is functional activation and at planning pre-surgically the proper surgical approach (http://www.neurochirurgia-udine.it/news/malattie.php?id=22). During resection fMRI data will provide structural and functional information.

When assessing areas involved in higher cognitive processing there is such inter-individual variability that it is difficult following a pre-determined assessment. This offers many possibilities from a research perspective. We published several studies targeting dyslexia, articulation, bilingualism, and sensorimotor functions.

In order to preserve cognitive functioning, during brain surgery the awake patient continuously performs cognitive exercise. We developed a new technique called Real-time neuropsychological testing. It is a sort of early cognitive neruo-rehabilitation occurring while brain tissue is resected. The neurosurgeon's request to the neuropsychologist is creating methods for monitoring and delivering immediate and accurate cognitive feedback while a patient is under resection. While in the past, testing was limited to a single function in a specific brain area, now we use a large series of continuously rotating tasks for a single area.

The aim is understanding i) whether the brain tissue under resection has functional role in order to proceed with maximal resection, ii) which functions are subject to better and faster recovery and which remain impaired, and iii) brain plasticity related mechanisms.

Selected publications

  • Marin D, Madotto E, Fabbro F, Skrap M, Tomasino B. Design fluency and neuroanatomical correlates in 54 neurosurgical patients with lesions to the right hemisphere. J Neurooncol. 2017 Jul 4. doi: 10.1007/s11060-017-2560-3. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28677108.
  • Bonivento C, Tomasino B, Garzitto M, Piccin S, Fabbro F, Brambilla P. Age-Dependent Changes of Thinking about Verbs. Front Behav Neurosci. 2017 Mar 14;11:40. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00040. eCollection 2017. PubMed PMID: 28352219; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5348498.
  • Tomasino B, Gremese M. The Cognitive Side of M1. Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Jun  17;10:298. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00298. eCollection 2016. PubMed PMID: 27378891; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4911410.
  • Skrap M, Marin D, Ius T, Fabbro F, Tomasino B. Brain mapping: a novel intraoperative neuropsychological approach. J Neurosurg. 2016 Oct;125(4):877-887. Epub 2016 Feb 5. PubMed PMID: 26848912.
  • Tomasino B, Gremese M. Effects of Stimulus Type and Strategy on Mental Rotation Network: An Activation Likelihood Estimation Meta-Analysis. Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Jan 7;9:693. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00693. eCollection 2015. PubMed PMID: 26779003; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4704562.
  • Tomasino B, Canderan C, Marin D, Maieron M, Gremese M, D'Agostini S, Fabbro F, Skrap M. Identifying environmental sounds: a multimodal mapping study. Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Oct 21;9:567. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00567. eCollection 2015. PubMed PMID: 26539096; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4612670.
  • Tomasino B, Marin D, Maieron M, D'Agostini S, Fabbro F, Skrap M, Luzzatti C. Double-letter processing in surface dyslexia and dysgraphia following a left temporal lesion: A multimodal neuroimaging study. Cortex. 2015 Dec;73:112-30. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.08.010. Epub 2015 Aug 19. PubMed PMID: 26407482.
  • Tomasino B, Marin D, Maieron M, D'Agostini S, Medeossi I, Fabbro F, Skrap M, Luzzatti C. A multimodal mapping study of conduction aphasia with impaired repetition and spared reading aloud. Neuropsychologia. 2015 Apr;70:214-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.02.023. Epub 2015 Feb 18. PubMed PMID: 25701795.
  • Tomasino B, Fabbro F, Brambilla P. How do conceptual representations interact with processing demands: An fMRI study on action- and abstract-related words. Brain Res. 2014 Dec 3;1591:38-52. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.10.008. Epub 2014  Oct 14. PubMed PMID: 25446003.
  • Tomasino B, Marin D, Canderan C, Maieron M, Budai R, Fabbro F, Skrap M. Involuntary switching into the native language induced by electrocortical stimulation of the superior temporal gyrus: a multimodal mapping study. Neuropsychologia. 2014 Sep;62:87-100. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.07.011. Epub 2014 Jul 21. PubMed PMID: 25058058.
  • Tomasino B, Marin D, Eleopra R, Rinaldo S, Cristian L, Marco M, Enrico B, Zanier M, Budai R, Mondani M, D'Auria S, Skrap M, Fabbro F. To move or not to move: subthalamic deep brain stimulation effects on implicit motor simulation. Brain Res. 2014 Jul 29;1574:14-25. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.06.009. Epub 2014 Jun 13. PubMed PMID: 24933326.
  • Tomasino B, Maieron M, Guatto E, Fabbro F, Rumiati RI. How are the motor system activity and functional connectivity between the cognitive and sensorimotor systems modulated by athletic expertise? Brain Res. 2013 Dec 2;1540:21-41. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2013.09.048. Epub 2013 Oct 5. PubMed PMID: 24099840.
  • Tomasino B, Rumiati RI. Introducing the special topic "The when and why of sensorimotor processes in conceptual knowledge and abstract concepts". Front Hum  Neurosci. 2013 Aug 26;7:498. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00498. eCollection 2013. PubMed PMID: 23986682; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3752440.
  • Tomasino B, Lotto L, Sarlo M, Civai C, Rumiati R, Rumiati RI. Framing the ultimatum game: the contribution of simulation. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Jul 9;7:337. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00337. eCollection 2013. PubMed PMID: 23847507;  PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3705201.
  • Tomasino B, Rumiati RI. At the mercy of strategies: the role of motor representations in language understanding. Front Psychol. 2013 Feb 4;4:27. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00027. eCollection 2013. PubMed PMID: 23382722; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3562995.
  • Papeo L, Rumiati RI, Cecchetto C, Tomasino B. On-line changing of thinking about words: the effect of cognitive context on neural responses to verb reading. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Dec;24(12):2348-62. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00291. Epub 2012 Sep 12. PubMed PMID: 22971086.
  • Tomasino B, Guatto E, Rumiati RI, Fabbro F. The role of volleyball expertise in motor simulation. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2012 Jan;139(1):1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2011.11.006. Epub 2011 Dec 9. PubMed PMID: 22154347.
  • Tomasino B, Marin D, Maieron M, Ius T, Budai R, Fabbro F, Skrap M. Foreign accent syndrome: a multimodal mapping study. Cortex. 2013 Jan;49(1):18-39. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2011.10.007. Epub 2011 Oct 29. PubMed PMID: 22130092.
  • Tomasino B, Ceschia M, Fabbro F, Skrap M. Motor simulation during action word processing in neurosurgical patients. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Mar;24(3):736-48. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00168. Epub 2011 Nov 18. PubMed PMID: 22098262.
  • Tomasino B, Skrap M, Rumiati RI. Causal role of the sensorimotor cortex in action simulation: neuropsychological evidence. J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Aug;23(8):2068-78. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21577. Epub 2010 Sep 17. PubMed PMID: 20849231.
  • Tomasino B, Bellani M, Perlini C, Rambaldelli G, Cerini R, Isola M, Balestrieri M, Calì S, Versace A, Pozzi Mucelli R, Gasparini A, Tansella M, Brambilla P. Altered microstructure integrity of the amygdala in schizophrenia: a bimodal MRI and DWI study. Psychol Med. 2011 Feb;41(2):301-11. doi: 10.1017/S0033291710000875. Epub 2010 May 12. PubMed PMID: 20459886.


  • Prof. Gereon Fink, Cognitive Neurology, Research Centre Juelich, Juelich, Germany
  • Prof. Peter Weiss, Cognitive Neurology, Research Centre Juelich, Juelich, Germany
  • Dr. Miran Skrap, Unità Operativa di Neurochirurgia, Azienda Sanitaria Universitaria Integrata S. Maria della Misericordia, Udine, Italy
  • Prof. Raffaella Ida Rumiati, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA), Trieste
  • Prof. Claudio Luzzatti, Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Italy & Milan Centre of Neuroscience
  • Prof. Franco Fabbro, Dipartimento di Scienze mediche e biologiche, Università di Udine, Italy


Press interest

BBC: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150513-the-weird-effects-of-foreign-accent-syndrome

Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202082412.htm

Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/269600.php

Stak Magazine: http://www.stack.com/a/athlete-brain

Le Scienze: http://www.lescienze.it/lanci/2014/09/10/news/irccs_medea_localizzata_unarea_del_cervello_implicata_nel_bilinguismo-2282655/



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