Daniela Leronni, PhD

Research Instructor

Daniela Leronni




Daniela Leronni, PhD, joined the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery as a postdoctoral associate in 2015 and was promoted to faculty in the department at the rank of research instructor in 2017.

She earned her BS/MS in biological sciences with a thesis in molecular biology at the University of Bari, Italy, in 2007. She earned her PhD in genetics and molecular evolution at the University of Bari, in 2011.

Dr. Leronni’s early work as a PhD student and research assistant at the University of Bari from 2008 to 2011 focused on the functional characterization of genetics elements in the genome of model organisms with a low number of chromosomes, such as Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly) and Culex Quinquefasciatus (southern house mosquito). She studied the insulator activity of retrotransposons, genomic elements present in all organisms’ genome. The study of the genetics of regulatory elements was the basis for Dr. Leronni’s background in molecular biology and her interest in gene therapy.

During her PhD in 2009, Dr. Lerronni was offered a fellowship as a visiting research student in the Department of Surgery at Harvard University. During this hands-on research experience, she contributed to the finding that demonstrates that mitochondria host segregated cAMP cascades with distinct functional and kinetic signatures. In this way, she began to investigate biological mechanism at a cellular level and applied her knowledge in molecular biology to carry on research in cellular biology.

In 2012, Dr. Leronni joined the University of Pittsburgh via the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics as a postdoctoral associate. Under the supervision of Joseph C. Glorioso III, PhD, she gained experience in the design and generation of gene therapy vectors that can be used to deliver multiple protective genes simultaneously to neurons, with the long-term goal of using these vectors as new approaches to neurological disease.

In 2015, Dr. Leronni was recruited by Robert Friedlander, MD, as postdoctoral associate to develop novel approaches for gene therapy for Huntington’s disease (HD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and to study the basic mechanism of these diseases. One of the main objectives of her research is the creation of gene therapy vectors for HD, including, vectors targeting melatonin synthesis, which plays a protective role in the brain. Additionally, Dr. Leronni leads a research project investigating mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodegenerative disease and mitochondria signal transduction.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Molecular biology; neurodegenerative diseases; gene therapy; mitochondria.

Board Certifications

Biologo Professionista, Italy

Professional Organization Membership

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Education & Training

  • BS/MS, Biology/Molecular Genetics, Università degli Studi Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy, 2007
  • Research Scholar, Cell Signaling, Harvard Medical School, 2010
  • PhD, Genetics and Molecular Evolution, Università degli Studi Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy, 2011
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Molecular Genetics/Gene Therapy, University of Pittsburgh, 2014
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Pittsburgh, 2016

Selected Publications

Suofu Y, Li W, Jean-Alphonse FG, Jiao J, Khattar NK, Li J, Baranov SV, Leronni D, Mihalik AC, He Y, Cecon E, Wehbi VL, Kim J, Heath BE, Baranova OV, Wang X, Gable MJ, Kretz ES, Di Benedetto G, Lezon TR, Ferrando LM, Larkin TM, Sullivan M, Yablonska S, Wang J, Minnigh MB, Guillaumet G, Suzenet F, Richardson RM, Poloyac SM, Stolz DB, Jockers R, Witt-Enderby PA, Carlisle DL, Vilardaga JP, Friedlander RM. Dual role of mitochondria in producing melatonin and driving GPCR signaling to block cytochrome c release. Proc Natl Acad Sci 114(38):E7997-E8006, 2017.

Lefkimmiatis K, Leronni D, Hofer AM. The inner and outer compartments of mitochondria are sites of distinct cAMP/PKA signaling dynamics. J Cell Biol 202(3):453-62, 2013.

Marsano RM, Leronni D, D’Addabbo P, Viggiano L, Tarasco E, Caizzi R. Mosquitoes LTR Retrotransposons: A Deeper View into the Genomic Sequence of Culex Quinquefasciatus.” PLoS One 7(2): e30770, 2012.

Minervini CF, Ruggieri S, Traversa M, D'Aiuto L, Marsano RM, Leronni D, Centomani I, De Giovanni C, Viggiano L. Evidences for insulator activity of the 5'UTR of the Drosophila melanogaster LTRretrotransposon ZAM. Mol Genet Genomics 283(5):503-9, 2010.

Research Activities

Dr. Leronni’s research focuses on investigating the molecular biology at the basis of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease (HD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The overall goal of her research is to identify novel therapeutic paths against neurodegeneration. In this context, melatonin is a key molecule for this study because this hormone has been shown to be neuroprotective in neurodegenerative diseases.

The projects Dr. Leronni is leading in Dr. Robert Friedlander's laboratory focus on investigating the neuroprotective role of melatonin synthetized in neuronal mitochondria. In the last year, she has contributed to an in-depth study on the action of melatonin on neuronal mitochondria. Dr. Leronni’s recent publication showed that the two terminal enzymes involved in melatonin production are localized in the mitochondria matrix and that the Melatonin Receptor 1 is localized on the mitochondria outer membrane. The information gained by this study will help understanding how the neurons can protect themselves from premature neurodegeneration.

Her current research work builds logically on the previous work and is aimed at investigating in which compartment mitochondrially synthetized melatonin is secreted/retained. This study will provide important insights that will be used in future studies to investigate dysregulation of neuronal melatonin synthesis in HD and to find novel approaches for gene therapy for neurological diseases.