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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
  • 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 (including Neuropixels probe recordings and two-photon calcium imaging), optogenetics, advanced data analysis and behavioral tasks.

    The neuron-level mechanisms of perception

    The very same sensory stimulus can be differentially perceived (or even not perceived at all) based on the context in which it occurs. A sound occurring when we are asleep, or focused on something else such reading a book is often not perceived, even if our brain is processing it. 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 combine behavioral assays with neuronal recordings and causal manipulations to understand the link between sensory processing and perception.

    Neuronal correlates of perception vs. causal mechanisms. Information about sensory- and task-related information (auditory information, visual information and detection) can be decoded from the activity in the posterior parietal cortex. However, inactivating this area has no effect on task performance (cf. with V1 inactivation) Modified from: Lohuis et al., J Neurosci, 2022.

    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).

    Cortical inter-area communication. Optogenetic inaction of higher-order visual areas depresses visually evoked responses in V1. Modified from: Lohuis et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2021.

    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 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., Neuron, 2013.
    Multisensory task contingencies vary sensory processing in V1. The same visual stimulus is differentially processed in V1 based on whether it is presented in naïve or trained mice, and in a context in which other sensory modalities must be attended. Modified from: Lohuis et al., Nature Communications, 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. 

    Hybrid optical setup for combined widefield calcium imaging, patterned illumination for modulation of neuronal activity and multi-area Neuropixels recording (collaboration with the lab of Rafael Yuste at Columbia University).
  • Role within the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group

    My lab is part of the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Group (CSN) at the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS).  With multimodal processing and perception as common denominator of the CSN group, my 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. A key area of interest is the experimental study of theories of consciousness.

    Within the CSN group a tight collaboration is established with with chair of the CSN grop Prof. Cyriel Pennartz (INTENSE project, INTREPID projectHuman Brain Project), with Dr. Conrado Bosman (FLAG-ERA projects CANON and DOMINO) and with Dr. Jan Willem de Gee. 

  • Ongoing and recent Research projects
    • Horizon Europe – EIC Pathfinder open program - NAP project: Twin-on-a-chip brains for monitoring individual sleep habits
    • Templeton World Charity Foundation / Accelerating Research on Consciousness INTREPID project: Adversarial collaboration to test contrasting predictions from Integrated Information Theory and Predictive Processing Accounts of Consciousness (with Cyriel Pennartz)
    • Templeton World Charity Foundation / Accelerating Research on Consciousness Project: The circuit mechanisms of visual consciousness
    • Amsterdam Brain and Cognition Project: The circuit mechanisms of visual consciousness: from theories to experiments and back
    • 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” 
    • Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC) project grant “Sleep‐related memory reactivation: a conscious process?”
  • 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 CSN 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.

  • Team
  • Alumni
    • Tom Sikkens (former PhD student, joint supervision with Conrado Bosman)
    • Matthijs oude Lohuis (former PhD student, joint supervision with Cyriel Pennartz, now a PostDoc at the Champalimaud Foundation, Lisbon)
  • Major (inter)national collaborations
    • Lucia Talamini, University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Simon van Gaal, University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
    • Timo Stein, University of 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)
    • Giulio Tononi, University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA)
    • Karl Friston, UCL (UK)
    • Rafael Yuste, Columbia University (New York, USA)
    • Guido Marco Cicchini, CNR (Pisa, Italy)
    • Benoit Cottereau, INSERM (Toulouse, France)
    • Argiro Vatakis, Panteion University (Athens, Greece)
  • News
    • 01/11/2022: Umberto Olcese organized and moderated the public symposium "From Matter to Mind" at SPUI25, where Melanie Boly, Andy Clark and Anil Seth debated the recent progress in the study of consciousness.
    • 06/10/2022: Kudos to Matthijs oude Lohuis for successfully defending his PhD.
  • 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 me at:

  • Key publications
    • Lohuis, M.N.O., Marchesi, P., Pennartz, C.M. and Olcese, U., Functional (ir)relevance of posterior parietal cortex during audiovisual change detectionJ Neurosci, 42 (26), 5229-5245 (2022).
    • Lohuis, M.N.O., Pie, J.L., Marchesi, P., Montijn, J.S., de Kock, C.P., Pennartz, C.M. and Olcese, U., Task complexity temporally extends the causal requirement for visual cortex in perceptionNat Commmun, 13 (1), 1-19 (2022).
    • Lohuis, M.N.O., Canton, A.C., Pennartz, C.M. and Olcese, U., Higher Order Visual Areas Enhance Stimulus Responsiveness in Mouse Primary Visual CortexCerebral Cortex, 32 (15), 3269-3288 (2022).
    • 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







    • 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), Article zsy167. Advance online publication. [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, Article 49. [details]




    • Olcese, U., & Faraguna, U. (2015). Slow cortical rhythms: from single-neuron electrophysiology to whole-brain imaging in vivo. Archives Italiennes de biologie, 153(2-3), 87-98. [details]
    • Semeraro, F., Scapigliati, A., Tammaro, G., Olcese, U., Cerchiari, E. L., & Ristagno, G. (2015). Advanced life support provider course in Italy: A 5-year nationwide study to identify the determinants of course success. Resuscitation, 96, 246-251. Advance online publication. [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]

    Membership / relevant position

    • 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