Rui M. Costa
Principal Investigator – Investigator of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Program at IGC and CCU. Guest Researcher, NIAAA, NIH.
Interests: Animals have a distinctive ability to behave, i.e. to move and interact with their surroundings, which permits them to shift between environments and also to change their environment.
Did you ever stop to think why animals move? What type of nervous system organization permits the generation of movement? How can actions be planned to achieve particular goals? To what extent they reflect the interaction with the environment or inherited programs? Do similar movements always represent similar actions? How do sequences of actions emerge? And how do certain actions become compulsive?
The study of the neural mechanisms underlying our ability to act is a fascinating topic in neuroscience that has become truly multidisciplinary in recent years, integrating a considerable array of technologies and approaches. We use an integrative approach in mouse models to investigate the neural mechanisms of action.
Postdoc – IGC Oeiras
Current Projects: Mutations in the FOXP2 gene cause a severe speech and language disorder. One of the core features of which is impairment in the learning and production of the orofacial motor-sequences necessary for fluent speech.
The FOXP2 transcription factor is highly conserved in mice, and we are exploiting the genetic tractability of this species to investigate the mechanisms underlying it´s function. We are combining selective deletion of Foxp2 with an operant behavioural task, where mice must perform a sequence of lever presses at increasingly high speeds to earn a food reward.
Lab Manager / Postdoc – IGC Oeiras
Current Projects: The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii induces behavioral alterations in rodents and may exert an effect on human personality and behavior. The mechanism through which infection produces these changes is not yet understood but it has been hypothesized that parasite cysts found in the brain could affect the dopaminergic neuromodulatory system.
The focus of my research is on whether there is a region-specific correlation between the presence of parasite cysts and altered dopamine levels. Additionally, I analyze region-specific alterations in neural activity, which may underlie the effects of chronic Toxoplasma infection on mouse behavior (specifically on movement, anxiety, and predator fear).
Ph.D Student – CCU / BEB PhD Program
Current Projects: The ability to select appropriate actions based on their consequences and the automatization of recurring decision processes allow us to respond in an efficient way to everyday life challenges. Stress response is essential for adaptation to a constantly changing environment and plays an essential role in the shift between goal-directed actions and habits.
I am interested in the impact of stress in decision-making strategies, spanning from behavior through the circuit into molecules.
Ph.D Student – CCU / PGCN 2008
Current Projects: The capacity to store information and consolidate memories for long periods of time is one of the most important brain functions. Selection and competition mechanisms between different neurons may play a role in determining which cells are recruited to store information, but the dynamics of neuronal ensemble activity and reorganization during the formation and consolidation of memories needs further investigation.
In my project I propose to investigate the dynamics of neuronal ensemble selection and competition during motor skill learning. By labeling and recording from cells that are active in the motor cortex and striatum during the performance and consolidation of motor skills I aim at unravelling some of the mechanisms that underly the formation of memories.
Postdoc – IGC Oeiras
Current Projects: Habit formation is a process by which new behaviors become automatic. The formation of these habits is mediated in part by the dorsal striatum, however the underlying neural substrates for the development of these circuits are poorly understood.
My project looks at how part of the dorsal striatal circuitry develops and how it may mediate habit formation.
Research Technician – IGC Oeiras
Interests: Transgenic animals contain foreign genes, artificially introduced, allowing the study of gene functions and the reproducibility of human diseases in animal models. The aim of my work is to improve a new technique to achieve these animals easily and faster.
Ph.D Student – IGC Oeiras / PGCN 2008
Current Projects: Habitual behaviour plays an essential role during the life of an individual. However, being able to shift between goal-directed actions and habits is equally important. Although a growing amount of research has provided evidences that these behaviors depend on dissociable circuits in the brain, the way the networks behave and interact to create the regulation between the two has not been clarified yet.
I wish to understand the neural mechanisms by which animals alter between goal-directed and habitual strategies and how the balance of the two behavioral strategies is controlled by the interaction between dorsal striatal circuits.
Ph.D Student – IGC Oeiras / PGCN 2007
Current Projects: DNA methylation and post-translational modifications of nuclear proteins have been shown to be pivotal players in several neurobiological processes, such as synaptic plasticity and memory formation. However, the learning of skills which last a lifetime, and specially their automatization, has not been investigated relative to these biochemical mechanisms.
The aim of my project is to take an epigenetics approach to circuit neurobiology, and investigate if epigenetic changes occur in the striatum during the acquisition and consolidation of a skill. I will also investigate if the long-lasting plasticity observed during the consolidation of a skill involves specific epigenetic processes in the direct or indirect striatal output circuits, and genetically manipulate the ability to undergo epigenetic changes in the striatum.
Postdoc – CCU
Current Projects: Understanding mechanisms underlying complex motor behavior under normal and pathological conditions is an important and challenging area in biomedical research. Behavioral classification is often defined solely by visual inspection, requiring extensive expertise and allowing only for a subjective classification, with potential observer bias.
The main goal of my project is to obtain an objective, reproducible, consistent and reliable approach to activity classification, through pattern recognition and cluster analysis algorithm methodology.
Post Doc – NIAAA, NIH USA
Current Projects: Organism behavior is organized as action sequences. Understanding the organization of action sequences and its neural substrate is at the core of understanding normal behavior and behavioral disorders.
My work is mainly focused on the molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying the generation, modulation and variation of action sequences.