Italy has a longstanding tradition in the study of the nervous system, and participated in the birth of the “modern” neurosciences thanks to the contributions of Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) to the structure of the nervous system (with the “reazione nera” - the “black reaction” – i.e. the silver impregnation, introduced by Golgi in 1873, that allowed the visualization of neurons in their entirety). In the twentieth century, Italian neuroscientists have provided seminal contributions in many fields of basic and clinical neurological sciences, including, for example, neurophysiology, clinical and experimental neuropathology, and neuropharmacology.
In the late seventies Gian Luigi Gessa and his collaborators started to organize in Sardinia a biannual international “Capo Boi Conference on Neuroscience” which, thanks to the high scientific level and the beauty of the venue, attracted outstanding neuroscientists from Europe and the USA. The perception that Italian researchers engaged in different fields of basic and clinical neurological sciences should share their knowledge in order to understand the functioning of the brain, was therefore clear to Gessa and his collaborators before the formalization of a Society dedicated to neuroscience, which was achieved only several years later during the “Capo Boi Conference on Neuroscience” held in 1983. SINS was thus founded on June 3, 1983.
The founders of the SINS were a group of 8 neuropharmacologists: Giovanni Biggio, Giovanni Umberto Corsini, Gaetano Di Chiara, Walter Fratta, Gian Luigi Gessa, Giampaolo Mereu, Zvani Rossetti, Pier Franco Spano.
The statute of the Society listed ten different panels to be represented in the SINS Council: neuropharmacology, neuromorphology, neurophysiology, neurotoxicology, neurochemistry, neurobiology of behavior, cellular and molecular neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, biological psychiatry, neurology. These panels have been maintained through the years and the Councilors (with a mandate of four years), as well as the President, are elected by all the SINS members.
Gian Luigi Gessa was the first elected President. The following were Pier Giorgio Strata (1988), Giulio Levi (1991), Giorgio Bernardi (1993), Luciano Martini (1995), Giacomo Rizzolatti (1997), Jacopo Meldolesi (1999), Damiano Zaccheo (2001), Fabio Benfenati (2003), Gaetano Di Chiara (2005), Marina Bentivoglio (2007). Lucio Annunziato is the current President Elect, who will take the office in 2009.
The first Congress of the SINS was held in Roma, December 12-15, 1984. Of great interest, and on line with recent concepts in neuroscience, was the opening lecture of the Congress on the “Historical origins and philosophical implications in neuroscience” given by Vittorio Somenzi, a philosopher of science interested in cybernetics, who focused on the pioneering idea that the mind is built up on experience. In the opening ceremony, distinguished scientists representative of the activities and contributions of Italian neuroscience were nominated honorary members of the SINS. These were Daniele Bovet (1907-1992), who received in 1957 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries on substances active in the vascular system and skeletal muscles (and in particular antihistamines and curare derivatives); Vittorio Erspamer (1909-1999), who discovered a variety of neuroactive molecules in lower vertebrates; Rita Levi-Montalcini, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of Nerve Growth Factor; Giuseppe Moruzzi (1910-1986), the eminent neurophysiologist “father” of the ascending brainstem activating system.
The topics discussed in the symposia, lectures and poster sessions of this first Congress of the SINS reflected the main research topics in which the Italian neuroscience community was engaged in the 1980s: the neurotrasmitters dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine; the modulatory action of neuropeptides; the processing of sensory information, with a particular emphasis on the visual system (from the retina to the visual cortex); the organization of motor control; cognition and cerebral dominance; the neurobiological correlates of different aspects of behavior; the new frontier of neuroendocrinology. This first meeting also included several presentations on dopamine autoreceptors and second messengers that mediate dopamine receptor actions, the involvement of the GABA receptor in the control of anxiety and stress, the study of neurotransmitter release mechanisms and a round table on neurodegeneration, research themes destined to an explosion in the following decades, in the Italian neuroscience community as well as elsewhere.
An important aspect of the SINS Congresses has always been and still is the emphasis on what would be defined nowadays as “translational neuroscience”, i.e. the relevance of basic research for clinical studies in psychiatry and neurology. This is still nowadays an important criterion for the selection of symposia proposed by the members for the SINS Congresses.
An interesting initiative of the SINS has been the organization of meetings dedicated exclusively to young neuroscientists alternate to the biannual Society Congress. The Congresses for the “Giovani Neuroscienziati” were organized in Pisa by Giovanni Umberto Corsini, and the program was arranged on the basis of very strict “age criteria”, allowing abstract submission, presentations, and plenary lectures only by under 35. These Congresses have been very productive in terms of exchange of ideas, fostering enthusiasm and communication among young generations of researchers.
SINS is still paying particular attention to young neuroscientists, opening calls for training fellowships abroad whenever the funds are available. An initiative is currently being undertaken for the definition of PhD curricula (“Dottorati di Ricerca”) in neuroscience at the national level in order to promote exchanges and common actions.
Since its birth, SINS has established and maintained very close connections with other national and international Neuroscience Societies, first of all IBRO. SINS participated to the constitution of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).
SINS still contributes to the scientific and cultural development of researchers in Italy thanks to the constant and enthusiastic participation of the society members, who are about 750 at the moment. The participation to the national Congress is growing, also on behalf of non-members.
On November 2007 at the Annual General Meeting of IBRO's Governing Council, held during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, it was announced that the Italian Society of Neuroscience had won the competition to hold the next IBRO World Congress. The 8th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience will therefore take place in Florence, July 14-19, 2011.
The Italian Society of Neuroscience's representative on the IBRO Governing Council is Micaela Morelli, the Honorary President of the Congress will be Giacomo Rizzolatti, the President, Gaetano Di Chiara and the Secretary General, Flavio Moroni
Professor of Pharmacology, University of Cagliari (Italy)
Italian representative of IBRO Governing Council