Scientific contact

Francesco Difato

Principal Investigator



  • Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
    Via Morego 3
  • Italy


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  • 0039 010 71781739

Other information

Francesco Difato graduated in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Genoa in 2002. He was awarded with the 2002 GIC-Italian Citometry Group Prize (Annual award for the best graduation thesis in bio-engeneering) for his thesis on “Quantitative volumetric recostruction of bioimages by confocal microscopy”. From 2002 to 2006 he worked in the laboratory of confocal microscopy at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague, developing applications of fluorescence techniques (FRAP, FRET). From 2004 to 2006 he also worked as responsible of confocal microscopy laboratory, at Charles University in Prague, offering consultations and training. In 2004 he began his Ph.D studies at Charles University in Prague to apply life imaging to study dynamics and cytoplasmatic trafficking of Polyomavirus in living cells.  From 2006 to 2008 he worked at SISSA, in Trieste, where he setup a custom made photonic force microscope to study the force exerted by growth cone during neuron differentiation and cytoskeleton role during axonal growth. In 2008 he received his Ph.D with a thesis entitled: “Optical microscopy to study the role of the cytoskeleton in cell locomotion and virus trafficking”.

Currently, he has a post-doc position at Italian Institute of Technology (IIT). His research aims to combine optical tweezers and laser dissector system integrated with MEA recordings and fluorescence Calcium imaging. The optical surgery workstation will be exploited on differentiating neurons at single cell and network level, to study the physiological response of single neurons and neural networks during optical manipulation.

 Research Highights:

FD is coauthor of 14 papers in peer-reviewed international journals, 3 proceedings of conferences, 3 book chapters. Since getting the PhD, PM reached a H-index value of 5 (total citations = 95, source: ISI web of science, updated: 10th March 2012).

 Research Interest:

 -Fluoresce imaging: wide-field, one-photon and two-photon confocal system

 - Long term live imaging: to study neuronal differentiation.

 -Optical tweezers: design and development of optical tweezers systems integrated with electrophysiology and fluorescence imaging.

 -Holography: design and development of holographic modules based on spatial light modulators, for optical tweezers and two-photon microscopy applications.

 -Force spectroscopy: design and development of interferometric tracking system operating in position or force clamp condition, to study the growth cone motility at high spatial and temporal resolution.

 -Laser dissection: design and development of laser dissection system to study axonal regeneration, and modulate the activity of neuronal networks.

 -Biophysics: study the physiological response of neurons to mechanical and chemical stimuli, at single cell and network level.

 Teaching activity:

-Responsable of laboratory of confocal microscopy. Consultations and training, at Charles University, Prague, Czech Repubblic (2002-2006).

 -Consultations and training with confocal and two-photon microscope, at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, Czech Republic (2004-2006).       

 -Teaching at the annual course of  “ Acquire and process images in Microscopy” at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (2004-2006).

-Teaching at annual course of “Optical Microscopy” at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic (2004-2006).

  - Teaching at the course “Confocal”, at Physics department, Università degli Studi di Genova. (2008)

 - Teaching at the annual course “Optical nanoscopy methods”, at Fondazione Istituto Italiano di tecnologia, Genova. (2009).

 - Teaching at the Scuola di Fisiologia e Biofisica of SIF, "New technologies for the study of the central nervous system" at Fondazione Istituto Italiano di tecnologia, Genova. (2011).

 - Co-Supervisor of bachelor Thesis in Biological Sciences, At University of Genoa, Department Of Mathematical Physical Natural Science.

 - Co-Supervisor of Master Degree Thesis in Automation and Control Engineering, at Florence University.

- Theoretical and practical sessions at the  workshop on on "Optofluidics and Optical Manipulation", Cape Coast, Ghana. Organized by ICTP, Trieste, Italy.


 [1] Difato F., Tsushima H., Pesce M., Guiggiani A., Benfenati F., Blau A., Basso M., Vassalli M. and Chieregatti E. “Axonal regeneration of cultured mouse hippocampal neurons studied by an optical nano-surgery system,” Proceeding of SPIE Photonic Therapeutics and Diagnostics VIII, Volume 8207, pp. 820760-820760-10 (2012).

 [2] Difato, F., Tsushima H., Pesce M., Benfenati, F., Blau, A.,Chieregatti, E."The formation of actin waves during regeneration after axonal lesion is enhanced by BDNF.,"Nature Scientific Reports 1(183)(2011).

 [3] Difato, F., Dal, M. M., Marconi, E., Ronzitti, G., Maccione, A., Fellin, T., Berdondini, L., Chieregatti, E., Benfenati, F.,Blau, A."Combined optical tweezers and laser dissector for controlled ablation of functional connections in neural network,"Journal of Biomedical Optics 16(5)(2011).

 [4] Difato, F., Schibalsky L., Benfenati, F.,Blau, A."Integration of optical manipulation and electrophysiological tools to modulate and record activity in neural networks.,"International Journal of Optomechatronics(2011).

 [5] Guiggiani, A., Torre, B., Contestabile, A., Benfenati, F., Basso, M., Vassalli, M.,Difato, F."Long-range and long-term interferometric tracking by static and dynamic force-clamp optical tweezers,"Opt. Express 19(23), 22364-22376 (2011).

 [6] Guiggiani A., Basso M., Vassalli M. and Difato F. “RealTime Suite: a step-by-step introduction to the world of real-time signal acquisition and conditioning,” Proceeding of 13th Real-Time Linux Workshop,  Czech Technical University in Prague, (2011).

 [7] Cella Zanacchi F., Lavagnino Z., Pesce M., Difato F., Ronzitti E. and Diaspro A. “Two-photon fluorescence excitation within a light sheet based microscopy architecture,” Proceedings of SPIE, vol. 7903, pp. 79032W, Multiphoton Microscopy in the Biomedical Sciences XI, San Francisco, California, USA

 [8] Dal Maschio M., Difato, F., Beltramo, R., Blau, A., Benfenati, F.,Fellin, T."Simultaneous two-photon imaging and photo-stimulation with structured light illumination,"Opt. Express 18(18), 18720-18731 (2010).

 [9] Shahapure, R., Difato, F., Laio, A., Bisson, G., Ercolini, E., Amin, L., Ferrari, E.,Torre, V."Force generation in lamellipodia is a probabilistic process with fast growth and retraction events,"Biophys. J. 98(6), 979-988 (2010).

[10] Chernyavskiy, O., Vannucci, L., Bianchini, P., Difato, F., Saieh, M.,Kubinova, L."Imaging of mouse experimental melanoma in vivo and ex vivo by combination of confocal and nonlinear microscopy,"Microsc. Res. Tech. 72(6), 411-423 (2009).

[11] Vannucci, L, Chernyavskiy, O.,  Togni, P., Bianchini, P., Difato, F., Valentova, H.,  Kubinova, L., Vrba, J., Grobarova, V., Saieh, M., Strnadel, J., Zaruba, P., Rossmann, P., Fiserova, A. “Microwave induced hyperthermia: microscopic and immunologic findings in experimentalmelanoma,” European Journal of Clinical Investigation 38(1), 45-45  (2008).  

[12]   Cojoc, D., Difato, F., Ferrari, E., Shahapure, R. B., Laishram, J., Righi, M., Di Fabrizio, E. M.,Torre, V."Properties of the force exerted by filopodia and lamellipodia and the involvement of cytoskeletal components,"PLoS. One. 2(10), e1072(2007).

[13] Zurmanova, J., Difato, F., Malacova, D., Mejsnar, J., Stefl, B.,Zahradnik, I."Creatine kinase binds more firmly to the M-band of rabbit skeletal muscle myofibrils in the presence of its substrates,"Mol. Cell Biochem. 305(1-2), 55-61 (2007).

[14] Liebl, D., Difato, F., Hornikova, L., Mannova, P., Stokrova, J.,Forstova, J."Mouse polyomavirus enters early endosomes, requires their acidic pH for productive infection, and meets transferrin cargo in Rab11-positive endosomes,"J. Virol. 80(9), 4610-4622 (2006).

[15] Difato, F., Mazzone, F., Scaglione, S., Fato, M., Beltrame, F., Kubinova, L., Janacek, J., Ramoino, P., Vicidomini, G.,Diaspro, A."Improvement in volume estimation from confocal sections after image deconvolution,"Microsc. Res. Tech. 64(2), 151-155 (2004).

[16] Kubinova, L., Janacek, J., Karen, P., Radochova, B., Difato, F., Krekule, I."Confocal stereology and image analysis: methods for estimating geometrical characteristics of cells and tissues from three-dimensional confocal images,"Physiol Res. 53 Suppl 1, S47-S55 (2004).

  Book Chapters:

[1] Difato, F., Dal Maschio M., Beltramo, R., Blau, A., Benfenati, F.,Fellin, T., “Spatial light     modulators for complex spatio-temporal illumination of neuronal networks” in [Neuronal Network Analysis], Springer, Chap. 3 (2011).

[2] Difato, F., Ferrari, E., Shahapure, R., Torre V.,Cojoc, D., “Optical Tweezers Microscopy: picoNewton forces in cell and molecular biology” in [Nanoscopy and Multidimensional Optical Fluorescence Microscopy], Taylor & Francis, Chap. 15  (2010).

[3] Dal Maschio M., Difato F., Beltramo R., De Stasi A., Blau A., Fellin T., “Optical investigation of brain networks using structured illumination”, in [Cellular Imaging Techniques for Neuroscience and Beyond], Elsevier, (In press).

  Reviewer of peer-review journals:

 -Microscopy Reasearch and Techniques

-Journal of Biomedical Optics

- Optic Express

- Optics Letters

- Biophysical Journal

- Review Scientific Instruments

-Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

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