Difato Francesco

Neuroscience research has recently taken advantage of optical approaches to record, modulate and manipulate the physiological activity of neurons. Studies on the nature of light-matter interactions have paved the way for emerging fields in biophysics and neuroscience, while advances in optical systems have provided minimally invasive approaches for studying the structure and function of living cells. Precise engineering of light-matter interactions allows contact-free manipulation of biological samples, such as the use of optical tweezers and laser dissector for precise and reproducible “optical surgery”. At the same time, molecular engineering has provided a new generation of optical probes to detect and modulate the activity of living cells.

My work has focused on the development of optical systems for the precise and controlled spatio-temporal manipulation of biological samples, and on the integration of optical setups with electrophysiological recording devices to study the central nervous system at various levels of complexity.

UOPTYoungaward  Taylor

  The Koh Young Best Paper Award 2012


Integration of Optical Manipulation and Electrophysiological Tools to Modulate and Record Activity in Neural Networks.  F. Difato, L. Schibalsky, F. Benfenati, and A. Blau. International Journal of Optomechatronics, 2011, 5(3), 191-216.

Corresponding Author: Difato F.

Photonic-neurosurgery lab @ JOVE

click on the image below to watch the published video article


Annual best paper award

4th Joint Workshop on Computer/Robot Assisted Surgery.

Annual Best Paper Award:

Neurophysiology guided single cell optical surgery. Averna A, Bisio M, Pruzzo G, Chiappalone M, Bonifazi P and Difato F.

Growth cone

Growth cone

on Saturday, 17 March 2012. Posted in Home

During morphogenesis, neuronal precursor cells migrate from the zone where they are born to their final destination, which, in some cases, is at a distance of several millimeters. After reaching their destination, neurons must establish appropriate synaptic connections by sending out from their soma projections called neurites. The motion of neurites is guided by growth cones located at their tips. Growth cones contain a variety of chemical and
mechanical receptors and sophisticated biochemical machinery that couples these receptors to the cytoskeleton. Extruding from the tip of the growth cone are highly motile structures called filopodia and lamellipodia that are used to explore and probe the environment. All these complex events, which are at the basis of neuronal development and differentiation, involve cell motility requiring a precise control of cellular and molecular motors.
We study, by optical tweezers and force spectroscopy,  the dynamic of cytoskeletal elements in the growth cone, and how the growth cone navigate in a controlled mechano-chemical micro-enviroment.

Structured light

Force spectroscopy

Growth cone navigation


Laser Dissection

Axon Regeneration