Natalia Bezerra Mota

I hold a medical degree from the UFRN (2007), a residency in Psychiatry UFRN (2011), a Master's degree in Neuroscience from the UFRN Neuroscience Program (2013) and a PhD in Neuroscience from the UFRN Neuroscience Program (2017). Currently I am a mother of two children, and a postdoctoral researcher at the Brain Institute - UFRN, with the support of UFPE (FADE). During master's and doctor's degree I developed a method of speech analysis capable of quantifying thought disorders, allowing differential diagnosis of schizophrenia. I deepened these studies characterizing the validity of the technique for diagnosis in chronic psychoses, as well as in the first episode (it is possible to predict diagnosis months in advance). Another advance was to add other techniques of semantic analysis to predict diagnosis of psychosis in a high-risk population. I also evaluated how these language characteristics were associated with cognitive symptoms and observed the association of the same markers with typical cognitive development in children in the public schools of Natal in the process of literacy. It was possible to identify how education contributes more than age to the development of these markers, and how psychoses appear to be educationally resistant as education is applied today. Using semantic analysis tools for dream studies, in a protocol with multiple awakenings in the laboratory, we are currently studying how traces of semantic memory express spontaneously during sleep and its electrophysiological correlates.

This lab investigates the molecular, cellular, circuit-level and psychological mechanisms responsible for the cognitive role of sleep. Explicit memories, i.e. memories of places, things and events involve two different brain portions: while the hippocampus acts as a short-term buffer, memories eventually move to the cerebral cortex. Investigating rats with multielectrode neuronal recordings and in situ hybridization for plasticity-related immediate-early genes, it was found that memories of novel objects fade within minutes in the hippocampus, but persist reverberating in the cortex during sleep many hours after the end of object exploration. The results indicate that the two phases of sleep cooperate to promote the propagation of memories from their entry point (hippocampus) to their final destination (cortex). The non-dreaming phase of sleep (slow-wave sleep, SWS) reverberates and amplifies recently acquired changes in selected synaptic circuits. The dreaming phase of sleep (rapid-eye-movement sleep, REM) switches on the cortical expression of genes related to memory stabilization and propagation. The results suggest that novel experience is followed by multiple waves of cortical plasticity as sleep cycles recur. As a consequence, memories become more dependent on cortex than hippocampus as sleep recurs, migrating from their original entry circuits to deeper cortical networks. The current goal of this lab is to elucidate how cortico-hippocampal interactions and experience-dependent synaptic plasticity during sleep contribute to the consolidation of memories in rodents. In parallel, electroencephalography, videogame playing and dream reports are used to probe the adaptive value of dreams in humans.

A second research line in this lab is the investigation of communication and symbolic competence in non-human animals. The focus is the marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), a highly vocal species of new-world monkey. At present this lab is dedicated to ethological studies of the vocal repertoire of marmosets, and to the mapping of calcium-dependent immediate early gene expression in brain areas related to hearing and vocal behavior.