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Dr. Giulio Pergola, Ph.D., is interested in the mechanisms that make humans different from one another: genetics, environmental factors, and their combined impact on the brain. His work moves from considering that nature and nurture determine our experience and related brain changes. As inter-individual differences depend on genes and experience, he investigates developmental trajectories and how people can change them with training or novel drug development. His vision is to translate research into actionable knowledge to afford opportunities – particularly to adolescents and individuals at risk of mental illness – to change the course of their life.

He trained as a Biologist in Bari (Italy) with a thesis on Anthropology and human evolution. He attended the International Graduate School of Neuroscience (IGSN) in Bochum (Germany) for my PhD. The IGSN is an interdisciplinary doctoral school with faculty from all areas of Neuroscience – biological, computational, clinical, and psychological. His Ph.D. was part of Novobrain (Marie Curie Early Stage Training FP6), a program dedicated to learning and memory. He worked with Prof. Daum, Prof. Suchan, and Prof. Güntürkün to acquire a background in human neuroimaging, morphometry, and neuropsychology. He then moved to the Italian excellence campus “SISSA” (Trieste, Italy), where he trained in cognitive neuroscience with Prof. Rumiati. In 2013 he undertook an assistant professorship in Psychiatry at the University of Bari Aldo Moro (UNIBA) in Bari (Italy) to work with Prof. Bertolino on the mechanisms underlying schizophrenia. He resumed his biological vocation and integrated his knowledge of neuroimaging and cognition with genomics and transcriptomics.

Dr. Pergola is an Investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD), where his research agenda is to develop statistical approaches to identify potential novel drug targets based on functional genomics and validate these insights via clinical, neuroimaging, and behavioral predictions. The driving idea is that risk genes for psychiatric disorders converge onto gene co-expression networks and explain brain pattern variation across individuals. He is establishing his team, which currently includes Research Associate Madhur Parihar and two graduate students visiting from Italy (Gianluca C. Kikidis and Fabiana Rossi).

Since August 2021, Dr. Pergola has been an associate professor in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at UNIBA’s School of Medicine, where he coordinates the Group of Psychiatric Neuroscience (>50 members), and he heads the laboratory of Brain Imaging, Networks, and Data mining (BIND)(11 members). BIND exists to bind the biological layers that are the foundation of our brain and behavior.


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Postdoctoral Fellow–Complex Systems Data Science

Postdoctoral Fellow–Neuroscience

Selected Publications

Selected Publications

1. *Pergola G, *Penzel N, Sportelli L, Bertolino A (In press). Lessons learned from parsing genetic risk for schizophrenia into biological pathways. Biological Psychiatry. IF: 13.4. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.10.009 *Equal contribution as leading authors. I received the review invitation, provided funding, and wrote the manuscript.

2. Valt C, Quarto T, Tavella A, …, *Pergola G, *Bertolino A (In press). Reduced Magnetic Mismatch Negativity: a Shared Deficit in Psychosis and Related Risk. Psychological Medicine. IF: 7.72. *equal contribution as senior authors. I conceptualized the study, provided funding and supervision, and edited the manuscript.

3. Passiatore R, Antonucci LA, Bierstedt S., …, Pergola G (2021). How recent learning shapes the brain: Memory-dependent functional reconfiguration of brain circuits. NeuroImage, 245, 118636. IF: 7.4. I conceptualized the study, provided funding, acquired the data, analyzed the data, provided supervision, and edited the manuscript.

4. Antonucci, LA, Penzel N, Pigoni A., …, Pergola G (2021). Flexible and specific contributions of thalamic subdivisions to human cognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 124, pp. 35–53. IF: 8.99. I conceptualized the work, provided funding and supervision, and edited the manuscript.

5. Pergola G, Papalino M, Gelao B, …, Bertolino A (2019). Evocative gene-environment correlation between genetic risk for schizophrenia and bullying victimization. World Psychiatry 18(3):366-367. IF: 80. I provided funding, performed the statistical analyses, and wrote the manuscript.

6. Pergola G*, Di Carlo P*, Jaffe AE, …, Bertolino A (2019). Prefrontal co-expression of schizophrenia risk genes is associated with treatment response in patients. Biological Psychiatry 86(1): 45–55. *equal contribution as first authors. IF: 13.4. I designed the study, analyzed data, provided funding, and wrote the manuscript.

7. *Selvaggi P, *Pergola G, Gelao B, …, Bertolino A (2019). Genetic Variation of a DRD2 Co-Expression Network is Associated with Changes in Prefrontal Function After D2 Receptors Stimulation. Cerebral Cortex 29(3):1162-1173. *equal contribution as first authors. IF: 4.86. I designed the study, provided supervision to junior colleagues, performed analyses, and wrote the manuscript.

8. Pergola G, Danet L, Pitel AL, …, Barbeau EJ (2018). The regulatory role of the human mediodorsal thalamus. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22(11): 1011–1025. IF: 24.5. I conceptualized the review, performed the bulk of the reviewing work, and wrote the manuscript.

9. *Fazio L, *Pergola G, Papalino M, …, Blasi G (2018). The transcriptomic context of DRD1 is associated with prefrontal activity and behavior during working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 115(21):5582-5587. *equal contribution as first authors. IF: 12.8. I designed the study, provided funding and supervision, performed statistical analyses, and wrote the manuscript.

10. Pergola G, Selvaggi P, Trizio S, Bertolino A, Blasi G (2015). The Role of the Thalamus in Schizophrenia from a Neuroimaging Perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 54: 57-75. IF: 8.99. I conceptualized the review and wrote the manuscript.



Dr. Pergola has been the first to use the individual genetic background to index gene co-expression to infer, based on genetics, the tendency to overexpress or downregulate gene clusters. He has applied this approach to the DRD2 gene coding for the D2 dopamine receptor, which is key to schizophrenia risk and treatment. With this approach, he tested mathematical models of how genetically predicted gene expression and co-expression impact brain function and behavior, which gained him the ICOSR Young Investigator Award 2017. He also found that predicted DRD1 gene co-expression is associated with prefrontal activity in the opposite direction relative to DRD2, mirroring the opposite roles of D1 and D2 receptors in prefrontal physiology during working memory – a finding recently replicated by another group. At the LIBD, with datasets ranging up to nearly 2,000 postmortem samples, he identified a co-expression gene set over-representing schizophrenia risk genes and predicting treatment response to olanzapine in two clinical cohorts. Thus, genes differentiating patients from controls are also associated with clinical variability between patients.

Dr. Pergola’s research field is in the stage of discovery science and often employs a data-driven approach. His prospective contribution over the next 10 years is to shed light on the principles behind the observable data collected by the scientific community. He is convinced that, to understand the principles underlying the data, science needs to transition from discovery science to model-based data analysis. For example, his current unpublished work focuses on modeling gene co-expression changes across the lifespan to discover when and where in the brain schizophrenia risk genes converge in biological pathways. He sees himself as part of a greater effort to understand the human mind and brain, and he thinks that inter-individual variability is key to this goal. Neuroscience needs interdisciplinary approaches, which require coordination and the ability to speak the languages of different disciplines, skills he tries to convey along with the technical ones when mentoring younger scientists.

Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum Vitae

Read Dr. Pergola’s CV here.