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Giovanni Mirabella

Sapienza Università di Roma

Should I stay or should I go? Neural underpinnings of inhibitory control of voluntary arm movements in pharmacoresistant epileptic patients


Giovanni Mirabella is assistant professor of physiology at Sapienza University of Rome. He graduated in biology at the University of Trieste, where he also got a PhD in Neuroscience at the International School of Advanced studies.

His main interest lies in the neural underpinnings of the genesis of voluntary actions, as he believes they could offer the best experimental model for understanding how ‘free will’ can emerge from brain activity. Following Libet’s original intuition, i.e. free will would not be tied to our ability to select and choose actions but would rely on our ability to suppress them, about 15 years ago he started to study the neural basis of the so-called volitional inhibition. He has designed a reaching version of the stop signal paradigm and has used this paradigm while recording brain activity of monkeys, while causally manipulating the status of subthalamic nuclei by activating or deactivating the deep brain stimulators (DBS) in Parkinson’s patients, and while recording the electrocorticographic activity (ECoG) in pharmacoresistant epileptic patients. From this bulk of studies, he has proposed the intriguing hypothesis that the performance of actions and their suppression are not specified by independent sets of brain regions. Rather, acting and stopping seems to be functions emerging from specific interactions between largely overlapping brain regions, whose activity is intimately linked (directly or indirectly) to the evaluations of pros and cons of an action.

He has also studied the relationship between action language and language understanding in the frame of the embodied theory of language, suggesting that motor cortices are involved to some extent in language understanding.

As a fellow of the Italian Academy he will try to develop the above mentioned working hypotheses.

He has extensive experience in designing and executing behavioral studies both in healthy and unhealthy people (such as patients with Parkinson's disease, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and primary motor stereotypies), and in recording electrophysiological signals from the brain (multielectrode and intracerebral electroencephalographic activity). He is currently serving as Associate Editor of Frontiers in Neural Technology and of Parkinson’s Disease.