Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University

Pasinelli, Piera

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Piera Pasinelli, PhD

Contact Dr. Pasinelli

900 Walnut Street
JHN 4th floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107

(215) 955-8394
(215) 503-4358 fax

Research and Clinical Interests

Neurodegenerative diseases, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Research in the laboratory focuses on the study of the cellular and molecular events that lead to motor neuron death in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig' s disease.

ALS is a typical neurodegenerative disease caused by degeneration and death of motor neurons in the spinal cord, brain stem and motor cortex. This leads to muscular atrophy. Death occurs 3 to 5 years from onset. Currently there is no cure for ALS.

The work we do in the laboratory focuses on one particular form of the disease: familial ALS caused by mutations in the gene encoding for the cytosolic copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1). We study the molecular mechanism(s) by which mutated SOD1 (mutSOD1) causes motor neuron degeneration. The ultimate goal is to identify potential therapeutic targets.

To this end, work in the laboratory develops in two components:

1. Basic research
2. Drug screening or translational research

Basic research:

Mutations in SOD1 cause motor neuron death through gain of toxic properties that are not fully delineated. This toxicity impairs multiple cellular functions. Mitochondrial abnormalities and activation of cell death genes are characteristic features of mutSOD1-mediated ALS. Our basic research program studies: a) the molecular switches that, upon mutation, convert SOD1 (normally a pro-survival protein) into a toxic molecule using in vitro biochemical approaches,
b) the pathological mechanisms governing mutSOD1-mediated cell death and mitochondrial dysfunction in neuronal cultures and transgenic animal models.

Drug screening:

What we learn from our basic research gets translated into the development of cell based assays to screen for therapeutics. The goal is to develop drugs to cure or ameliorate the disease.

We use different techniques from basic molecular biology to biochemistry and cell biology. We use cloning, protein electrophoresis, immunoblotting, immunofluorescence and immunoprecipitation techniques, in vitro affinity binding assays and subcellular fractionation to isolate organelles from the spinal cord of ALS mice.

As model systems we use neuronal cell cultures with mutSOD1 and transgenic ALS mice that express the human-mutated SOD1 gene. These mice develop and ALS-like disorder; we follow pathogenic molecular changes in the motor neurons of these mice as disease progresses.


Most Recent Peer-Reviewed Publications

  1. Excess glutamate secreted from astrocytes drives upregulation of P-glycoprotein in endothelial cells in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  2. Repeat-associated non-AUG translation in C9orf72-ALS/FTD is driven by neuronal excitation and stress
  3. Astrocytes expressing ALS-linked mutant FUS induce motor neuron death through release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha
  4. Blood–Brain Barrier Driven Pharmacoresistance in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Challenges for Effective Drug Therapies
  5. Mutation of the caspase-3 cleavage site in the astroglial glutamate transporter EAAT2 delays disease progression and extends lifespan in the SOD1-G93A mouse model of ALS
  6. Pathogenic determinants and mechanisms of ALS/FTD linked to hexanucleotide repeat expansions in the C9orf72 gene
  7. Cell-to-Cell Transmission of Dipeptide Repeat Proteins Linked to C9orf72-ALS/FTD
  8. Astrocytes drive upregulation of the multidrug resistance transporter ABCB1 (P-Glycoprotein) in endothelial cells of the blood–brain barrier in mutant superoxide dismutase 1-linked amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  9. Pur-alpha regulates cytoplasmic stress granule dynamics and ameliorates FUS toxicity
  10. Regulation of ABC efflux transporters at blood-brain barrier in health and neurological disorders
  11. ABC transporter-driven pharmacoresistance in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  12. Inhibiting drug efflux transporters improves efficacy of ALS therapeutics
  13. Role of mitochondria in mutant SOD1 linked amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  14. Sumoylation of the astroglial glutamate transporter EAAT2 governs its intracellular compartmentalization
  15. Antisense proline-arginine RAN dipeptides linked to C9ORF72-ALS/FTD form toxic nuclear aggregates that initiate invitro and invivo neuronal death
  16. Defects in synapse structure and function precede motor neuron degeneration in Drosophila models of FUS-related ALS
  17. Small peptides against the mutant SOD1/Bcl-2 toxic mitochondrial complex restore mitochondrial function and cell viability in mutant SOD1-mediated ALS
  18. Selective increase of two ABC drug efflux transporters at the blood-spinal cord barrier suggests induced pharmacoresistance in ALS
  19. An over-oxidized form of superoxide dismutase found in sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with bulbar onset shares a toxic mechanism with mutant SOD1
  20. Motor neuron impairment mediated by a sumoylated fragment of the glial glutamate transporter EAAT2