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John Assad

Senior Researcher - Principal Investigator

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I received my PhD in Neurobiology from Harvard University in 1991. I did a postdoc at Baylor College of Medindine until 1996, when I joined the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. The goal of my lab’s research has been to understand how the primate brain controls behavior by integrating external sensory information with internal states, such as attention or motivation. The brain has an astonishing ability to flexibly link sensation and action. The same visual object may trigger different actions depending on external context or the animal’s internal needs, preferences or state of attention. My lab uses electrophysiological techniques to study the brain computations between sensory input and motor output. We have focused on three important aspects of this processing chain: 1) how visual information is transformed into a behaviorally useful form, 2) how appropriate movements are initiated at precise times, and 3) how the value of objects or goals in the environment is assigned to guide behavior. For many of these studies, my lab has focused on the parietal cortex, a part of the brain that acts as a bridge between sensation and action. We have also examined the role of the basal ganglia in movement control, an issue that is relevant for understanding movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and we have studied the orbitofrontal cortex in the context of how the brain represents value.

At IIT, I have been mainly involved in collaborative projects to develop new probes for measuring neural activity in vivo.

Selected Publications

Fitzgerald JK, Freedman DJ, Fanini A, Bennur S, Gold J, Assad JA (2012) Biased associative representations in parietal cortex. Neuron.  In Press.

Fitzgerald JK, Freedman DJ and Assad JA (2011) Generalized associative representations in parietal cortex. Nature Neurosci. 14:1075-1079.

Freedman DJ and Assad JA (2011) A proposed common neural mechanism for categorization and perceptual decisions. Nature Neurosci. 14:143-146.

Herrington TM and Assad JA (2010) Temporal sequence of attentional modulation in LIP and MT during rapid covert shifts of attention. J. Neurosci. 30:3287-3296.

Herrington TM and Assad JA (2009) Neural activity in the middle temporal area and lateral intraparietal area during endogenously cued shifts of attention. J. Neurosci. 29:14160-14176.

Maimon G and Assad JA (2009) Beyond Poisson: increased spike-time regularity across primate parietal cortex. Neuron. 62:426-440.

Freedman DJ and Assad JA (2009) Distinct encoding of spatial and non-spatial information in parietal cortex. J. Neurosci. 29:5671-5680.

Herrington TM, Masse NY, Hachmeh KJ, Smith  JET, Assad JA and Cook EP (2009) The effect of microsaccades on the correlation between neural activity and behavior in areas MT, VIP and LIP. J. Neurosci. 29:5793-5805.

Padoa-Schioppa C and Assad JA (2008) The representation of economic value in the orbitofrontal cortex is invariant for changes of menu. Nature Neurosci. 11:95-102.

Fanini A and Assad JA (2008) Direction selectivity of neurons in the macaque lateral intraparietal area. J. Neurophys. 101:289-305.

Maimon G and Assad JA (2006) Parietal area 5 and the initiation of self-timed movements vs. simple reactions. J. Neurosci. 26: 2487-2498.

Lee IH, Seitz AM and Assad JA (2006) Activity of tonically active neurons in the monkey putamen during initiation and withholding of movement. J. Neurophys. 95:2391-2403.

Padoa-Schioppa C and Assad JA (2006) Neurons in orbitofrontal cortex encode economic value. Nature. 441:223-226

Maimon G and Assad JA (2006) A parietal signal for the proactive timing of action. Nature Neurosci. 9:948-955.

Freedman DJ and Assad JA (2006) Experience-dependent representation of visual categories in parietal cortex. Nature 443:85-88.

Lee IH and Assad JA. Putaminal Activity for Simple Reactions or Self-Timed Movements. (2003) J. Neurophys. 89:2528-2537.

Williams Z, Elfar JC, Eskandar EN, Toth LJ and Assad JA. (2003) Relationship of parietal activity to the perceived direction of ambiguous apparent motion. NatureNeurosci. 6:616-623.

Toth LT and Assad JA (2002) Dynamic coding of behaviourally relevant stimuli in parietal cortex. Nature 415:165-168.

Eskandar EN and Assad JA (2002) Distinct nature of directional signals among parietal cortical areas during visual guidance. J. Neurophys. 88:1777-1790.

Eskandar EN and Assad JA (1999) Dissociation of visual, motor and predictive signals in parietal cortex during visual guidance.  Nature Neurosci. 2:88-93.


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.