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Dr. U. (Umberto) Olcese

Faculty of Science
Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences
Photographer: Sander Nieuwenhuys

Visiting address
  • Science Park 904
  • Room number: C4.110
Postal address
  • Postbus 94246
    1090 GE Amsterdam
Contact details
  • The neurophysiology of perception: from neurons to phenomenology

    How does the brain transform sensory stimuli into perceptual experiences? How can the very same stimulus sometimes be seen, and sometimes not? Why are we unaware of what is going on around us while we sleep? What are the neural mechanisms of consciousness?

    These are the questions that lie at the center of my research activities, and that I address by combining techniques for in vivo multi-area large scale recordings, optogenetics, advanced data analysis and behavioral tasks.

    Context-dependent sensory processing

    A most striking feature of everyday experience is that the very same sensory stimulus can be differentially perceived (or even not perceived at all) based on the context in which it presents itself. Therefore, investigating the context in which a stimulus is processed by the brain can yield invaluable insights in the mechanisms of perception and consciousness. In the lab, we consider context in its broadest sense: brain state, (multi)sensory context, task contingencies, pathological conditions (e.g. stroke, autism).

    Context-dependent cortical activity. Context drastically modulates how cortical neurons activate and respond to sensory stimuli. Left: Synchronized activity (top: local field potential, bottom: raster plot of single neuron activity – one row = one neuron) occurs during quiet wakefulness, non-REM sleep and anesthesia (here shown: anesthesia). Right: Desynchronized activity is typical of (active) wakefulness and REM sleep (here shown: wakefulness). Modified from: Olcese et al., 2018.

    Inter-areal communication and distributed processing

    The brain is an interconnected web of regions, which constantly exchange information. A key goal of my lab is to investigate the architecture of communication between regions, and how this varies as a function of contextual factors (brain state, task engagement, etc.) To achieve this, techniques such as multi-area silicon probe recordings (including Neuropixels probes) and optogenetics are coupled to advanced data analysis methods (information theory, dimensionality reduction).

    Brain states modulate inter-areal connectivity. Compared to wakefulness, during non-REM sleep functional coupling (measured as conditional mutual information – cMI – between spiking activity of pairs of neurons) drops between excitatory neurons located in different areas (black), but not between inhibitory neurons (red), nor at the level of single areas. Modified from: Storm et al., 2017.

    Cortical multimodal integration

    Multisensory integration is observed at different levels of cortical organization, starting from primary sensory cortices. By investigating the microcircuit-level mechanisms of multimodal integration, I aim to shine light on key features of conscious processing such as perceptual binding.

    Cortical architecture of multisensory integration. Layer-dependent multisensory integration in a parietal cortical area. Ensemble recordings showed that multisensory integration is prominent in supragranular layers of parietal associative region RL. Modified from: Olcese et al., 2013.


    The final pillar of my lab is neurotechnology. By employing and developing techniques to record, manipulate and analyze the activity of large-scale populations of neurons we aim to probe the distributed neuronal bases of perception.

    Experimental approach. Left: flattened cortical section, with the borders of the primary visual cortex (V1), primary somatosensory cortex (S1) and retrosplenial cortex (RSP). Red indicates the locations of silicon probes used for multi-area recordings. Green indicates expression of Channelrhodopsin in parvalbumin-positive interneurons located in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). Right: multi-channel laminar probes allow to record the activity of multiple neurons (action potentials shown on the right) across cortical layers. Unpublished data (author: Matthijs oude Lohuis).
  • Role within the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group

    My lab is part of the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group (CSN), chaired by Prof. Cyriel Pennartz.  With multimodal processing and perception as common denominator of the CSN group, the lab focuses on the application of in vivo multi-area recordings and optogenetics and on the development of neurotechnological approaches to study the neuronal bases of (multi)sensory processing and perception, and how these are affected by disorders such as stroke. A key area of interest is the experimental study of theories of consciousness. A tight collaboration is established with Prof. Cyriel Pennartz (INTENSE projectTempleton Initiative on Accelerating Research on ConsciousnessHuman Brain Project), with Dr. Conrado Bosman (FLAG-ERA projects CANON and DOMINO) and with Dr. Jorge Mejias (integration of experimental data with computational modeling). 

  • National and international Research projects
    • NWO Crossover project INTENSE: Innovative Neurotechnology for Society (with Cyriel Pennartz)
    • FLAG-ERA Joint Transnational Call 2019 – DOMINO Project: Development of cortical multisensory integration mechanisms at micro- and macro- scales during normal and pathophysiological conditions (with Conrado Bosman)
    • FLAG-ERA Joint Transnational Call 2015 – CANON Project: Investigating the canonical organization of neocortical circuits for sensory integration (with Conrado Bosman)
    • Amsterdam Neuroscience Translational proof-of-concept project “Excitation-inhibition ratio as a translational concept: Optogenetic validation of a novel method to stratify autism spectrum disorder” (with Klaus Linkenkaer-Hansen)
    • Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC) project grant “Sleep‐related memory reactivation: a conscious process?” (with Lucia Talamini)
  • Bio-sketch

    I was trained as a Biomedical Engineer at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa, Italy) and at the University of Pisa. During my PhD at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, I moved to neuroscience, and I established a collaboration with Prof. Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in Madison, I developed an interest in the study of sleep and consciousness. I worked on a computational model to study the memory consequences of the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, and collaborated with Vladyslav Vyazovskiy to study the nature of cortical spiking activity during sleep. One major result was the discovery that cortical patches can display local sleep while an individual is behaviorally awake. During my PostDoc, I worked with Dr. Paolo Medini at the Italian Institute of Technology (Genoa, Italy). There, I focused on the application of a wide range of in vivo experimental techniques (whole-cell patch clamp, ensemble recordings, two-photon calcium imaging, optogenetics) to characterize the microcircuit-level architecture of multisensory integration in the parietal cortex. As a group leader in the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group at the University of Amsterdam, I mainly focus on the neuronal mechanism of perception: how sensory stimuli are converted by the brain into perceptual experiences. To achieve this objective, I have established a strong network of collaborations, primarily with the other members of the CSN Group.

    I am also a member of the Amsterdam Young Academy, in which I focus on making academic as well as everyday life more sustainable.

  • Team
    • Tom Sikkens (PhD student, joint supervision with Conrado Bosman)
    • Mariel Muller (PhD student, joint supervision with Conrado Bosman)
    • Matthijs oude Lohuis (PhD student, joint supervision with Cyriel Pennartz)
    • Jean Pie (PhD student, collaborative project with Cyriel Pennartz and Christiaan de Kock)
    • Luca Montelisciani (PhD student, joint supervision with Conrado Bosman)
    • Eric Dijkema (PhD student, joint supervision with Cyriel Pennartz)
    • Joao Patriota (PhD student, joint supervision with Lucia Talamini)
    • Judith Lim (PhD student, joint supervision with Cyriel Pennartz and Carien Lansink)
  • External collaborations
    • Lucia Talamini, University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Simon van Gaal, University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Klaus Linkenkaer-Hansen, VU University Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Ugo Faraguna, University of Pisa (Italy)
    • Pieter Roelfsema, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (the Netherlands)
    • Daniele Avitabile, VU University Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Vivi Rottschaffer, Leiden University (the Netherlands)
    • Jonathan Coutinho, Amsterdam UMC (the Netherlands)
    • Giulio Tononi, University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA)
    • Rafael Yuste, Columbia University (New York, USA)
    • Luc Gentet, INSERM (Lyon, France)
    • Zoltán Somogyváry (Budapest, Hungary)
    • Lászlo Négyessy, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest, Hungary)
    • Guido Marco Cicchini, CNR (Pisa, Italy)
    • Benoit Cottereau, INSERM (Toulouse, France)
    • Argiro Vatakis, Panteion University (Athens, Greece)
    • Javier de Felipe, Cajal Institue (Madrid, Spain)
  • News
    • Umberto Olcese and Yağmur Güçlütürk will be chairing a mini-symposium at the IEEE Conference on Neural Engineering ( The mini-symposium is titled "New Methods for the Analysis of Large-Scale Neural Recordings", and the conference will take place on May 4-6, 2021.
  • Further information and contact

    Are you seeking more specific information on this research line, on specific projects for internships or on possible collaborations? Please contact:

    Applications for internships (minimal duration: 5 months) can be directed to Conrado Bosman Vittini ( Application should include a cover letter, CV and grade list.

  • Key recent publications (last 10 years)
    • oude Lohuis, M.N., Cantón, A.C., Pennartz, C.M.A., & Olcese, U., Higher-order visual areas broaden stimulus responsiveness in mouse primary visual cortexbioRxiv (2021).
    • Sikkens, T., Bosman Vittini, C.A. & Olcese, U., The role of top-down modulation in shaping sensory processing across brain states: implications for consciousnessFront Syst Neurosci, 13:31 (2019).
    • Meijer, G., Mertens, P., Pennartz, C.M.A., Olcese, U. & Lansink, C.S., Cortical networks for multisensory processing: distinct functions sharing a common circuitryProgr Neurobiol, 174:1-15 (2019).
    • Olcese, U., oude Lohuis, M. & Pennartz, C.M.A., Sensory processing across conscious and nonconscious brain states: from single neurons to distributed networksFront Syst Neurosci, 12:49 (2018).
    • Olcese, U., Bos, J.J., Vinck, M., & Pennartz, C.M.A., Functional determinants of enhanced and depressed inter-areal information flow in NREM sleep between neuronal ensembles in rat cortex and hippocampus, SLEEP, 41(11) (2018).
    • Storm, J. F., Boly, M., Casali, A. G., Massimini, M., Olcese, U., Pennartz, C.M.A., & Wilke, M., Consciousness Regained: Disentangling Mechanisms, Brain Systems, and Behavioral ResponsesJ Neurosci37(45), 10882-10893 (2017).
    • Olcese, U., Bos, J.J., Vinck, M., Lankelma, J.V., van Mourik-Donga, L.B., Schlumm, F. & Pennartz, C.M.A., Spike-based functional connectivity in cerebral cortex and hippocampus: loss of global connectivity is coupled to preservation of local connectivity during non-REM sleepJ Neurosci, 36 (29), 7676-7692 (2016).
    • Olcese, U., Iurilli, G. and Medini, P., Cellular and synaptic architecture of multisensory integration in the mouse neocortexNeuron, 79, 579-593 (2013).
    • Iurilli, G., Ghezzi, D., Olcese, U., Lassi, G., Nazzaro, C., Tonini, R., Tucci, V., Benfenati, F. and Medini, P., Sound-Driven Synaptic Inhibition in Primary Visual CortexNeuron 73, 814-828 (2012).
    • Vyazovskiy, V.V., Olcese, U, Hanlon, E.C., Nir,Y., Cirelli, C. and Tononi, G., Local sleep in awake ratsNature,28;472(7344):443-7 (2011).
  • Publications


    • Benedetti, D., Olcese, U., Frumento, P., Bazzani, A., Bruno, S., d'Ascanio, P., Maestri, M., Bonanni, E., & Faraguna, U. (2021). Heart rate detection by Fitbit ChargeHR™: A validation study versus portable polysomnography. Journal of Sleep Research, [e13346].
    • Homberg, J. R., Adan, R. A. H., Alenina, N., Asiminas, A., Bader, M., Beckers, T., Begg, D. P., Blokland, A., Burger, M. E., van Dijk, G., Eisel, U. L. M., Elgersma, Y., Englitz, B., Fernandez-Ruiz, A., Fitzsimons, C. P., van Dam, A-M., Gass, P., Grandjean, J., Havekes, R., ... Genzel, L. (2021). The continued need for animals to advance brain research. Neuron, 109(15), 2374-2379. [details]



    • Olcese, U. (2018). Non-REM sleep and the neural correlates of consciousness: more than meets the eye. Archives Italiennes de biologie, 156(3), 137-148. [details]
    • Olcese, U., Bos, J. J., Vinck, M., & Pennartz, C. M. A. (2018). Functional determinants of enhanced and depressed interareal information flow in nonrapid eye movement sleep between neuronal ensembles in rat cortex and hippocampus. Sleep, 41(11), [zsy167]. [details]
    • Olcese, U., Oude Lohuis, M. N., & Pennartz, C. M. A. (2018). Sensory Processing Across Conscious and Nonconscious Brain States: From Single Neurons to Distributed Networks for Inferential Representation. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 12, [49]. [details]





    • Pietrasanta, M., Restani, L., Cerri, C., Olcese, U., Medini, P., & Caleo, M. (2014). A switch from inter-ocular to inter-hemispheric suppression following monocular deprivation in the rat visual cortex. European Journal of Neuroscience, 40(1), 2283-2292. [details]


    • Olcese, U. (2017). Reviewer for the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), FWO (Research Foundation Flanders).

    Talk / presentation

    • Olcese, U. (speaker) (11-10-2017). Neuron-level functional and effective connectivity during NREM sleep: A highly heterogeneous picture of a global brain state, World Sleep 2017, Prague.
    • Olcese, U. (speaker) (15-6-2017). Microcircuits for sensory integration: theory, study techniques and future perspectives, Dutch Neuroscience Meeting, Lunteren.
    • Olcese, U. (speaker) (21-1-2016). New Technologies in Neuroscience, The 4thSINdem4Juniors , Bressanone.
    This list of publications is extracted from the UvA-Current Research Information System. Questions? Ask the library or the Pure staff of your faculty / institute. Log in to Pure to edit your publications. Log in to Personal Page Publication Selection tool to manage the visibility of your publications on this list.
  • Ancillary activities
    • No ancillary activities