James Defended His Master’s Thesis!

Congratulations to James Johnson for successfully defending his master’s thesis project! James presented his excellent work on developing and optimizing organotypic slice cultures of live human brain tissue as part of a broader project to create a human tissue model of neuroHIV. His essential contributions moved the project forward and positioned him for success in future scientific endeavors. James is scheduled to graduate at the end of the year and is currently applying to PhD programs to further his research training.

James celebration

JNIP journal

New publication on opioid control of iron transport

Dr. Elena Irollo and colleagues from the Meucci lab recently published a new study on how morphine uses the iron transporter divalent metal transporter 1 (DMT1) to control iron metabolism in cortical neurons. The study also reports a new set of molecular tools to study DMT1 in a variety of cellular systems. This work continues a longstanding story on how morphine and mu-opioid agonists can impair cognitive function in people with HIV by dysregulating neuronal iron metabolism.

The study is open access and freely available at the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

DMT1 Visual abstract

Morphine uses the iron transporter DMT1 to move endolysosomal iron into the cytoplasm of cortical neurons, which later upregulates the iron storage protein ferritin heavy chain. Our previous work reported excess ferritin heavy chain is associated with lower dendritic spine density in prefrontal cortex neurons and cognitive deficits in an animal model of neuroHIV.

Jared Luchetta

Jared Defended His PhD Thesis!

Congratulations to Jared Luchetta for successfully defending his PhD thesis! Jared’s work uncovered how chemokine signaling through the CXCL12/CXCR4 pathway controls neuronal activity, and he identified that CXCR4 expressed on cortical inhibitory neurons is a major driver of CXCL12’s beneficial and homeostatic effects. Jared was a T32 fellow of Drexel’s Interdisciplinary and Translational Research Training Grant in NeuroAIDS, and he was recognized by several awards including the department’s top award for scholarship, the Benjamin Weiss Scholar Award, and the Mary Hoffman Shaw Travel Award. He was also involved in several other projects in the lab and helped other lab members move projects forward and develop new approaches to address longstanding research questions.

Jared defense slide

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We’re hiring a research assistant!

Research/Laboratory Assistant

Job Overview: The research assistant will be involved in ongoing NIH-funded projects in the field of neuroHIV and neuroprotection, and additional collaborative studies in oncology. The successful candidate will have expertise in both cellular/molecular biology techniques and small animal in vivo models. They are also expected to facilitate teamwork and ensure proper function of the laboratory. Highly experienced candidates can be considered for a lab manager role.

Qualifications: Post-Bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline and some previous hands-on research experience.

Applicants at different levels of expertise will be considered, though the ideal candidate would have technical skills in one or more of the following areas: traditional and modern techniques of cellular and molecular biology (preferably neurobiology), histology, microscopy and cellular imaging, and/or small animal models for the study of CNS disorders. Some previous experience in the fields of cell biology and HIV neuropathology, human brain tissue analysis, or familiarity with primary neuronal cultures, is preferred – along with self-motivation, commitment to success and innovation, and exceptional organization skills.

Essential Functions: Performs standard laboratory procedures. Assists with and/or independently conducts experiments. Analyzes and reports experimental data. Complies with lab safety and regulatory protocols. Tracks and orders supplies. Organizes supplies, materials, and equipment, and sets up equipment for use. Additional tasks include: help with literature search, preparation of material for presentations, technical training of new students, maintenance/update of lab protocols, participation to lab meetings.

Supplemental Position Information: This is full-time research assistant position available immediately, for a minimum of 1 year. The successful candidate can eventually transition to a senior position (i.e. senior lab technician/lab manager), and is encouraged to become a stable, integral part of the laboratory.

Please contact Dr. Olimpia Meucci (om29@drexel.edu), if interested in this opening.DUCOM logo

Mol Neuro cover

New publication on US9 fusion proteins to control amyloidogenesis

Dr. Renato Brandimarti and colleagues from the lab published a new study detailing US9 fusion proteins that control amyloid precursor protein processing without targeting endogenous secretases. The work was published in Molecular Neurobiology and is freely available.

Click here to read the publication!


Us9 controls APP

The US9 fusion protein gPTG9TM pulls APP away from sites of B-cleavage, which produces more neuroprotective soluble α-APP and improves several markers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

department retreat flyer

Chunta wins elevator talk competition

Chunta participated in our trainee elevator talks competition at this year’s department retreat and received a first place award for his talk! Well done, Chunta!

Chunta elevator talk


We’re hiring a postdoc!

neuronDescription: This position is for a post-doctoral researcher with extensive experience in neurobiology, neuroimmune pharmacology, and translational neuroscience eager to contribute to the overall mission of the lab with creativity and passion. This individual will be involved in ongoing NIH-funded projects in the field of neuroHIV, neuroprotection, and drug abuse, which require expertise in both cellular/molecular neurobiology techniques and small animal in vivo models. The experienced researcher is expected to facilitate teamwork, participate in the training of graduate students, and ultimately enhance the research potential of the whole group.


Qualifications: PhD (or MD/PhD) or equivalent doctoral degree is required.

At least 3 years’ experience in a neurobiology or translational neuroscience setting.

Strong communication and interpersonal skills.

Time management and organization skills.two neuron

Highest work ethic standards.


Candidates should have extensive experience in traditional and modern techniques of cellular and molecular neurobiology, histology, microscopy/cellular imaging, and use of small animal models to study CNS disorders. Ideal candidates will have experience in techniques including electrophysiology, multi-electrode arrays, and/or in vivo imaging. Candidates will be able to keep up with, and implement, the many emerging technical innovations in the field of neuroscience. Previous experience in the field of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders is a plus, along with familiarity with primary neuronal cultures and brain tissue processing, self-motivation, commitment to success and innovation, and exceptional organization and communication skills.  Opportunities for career advancement are available.


Contact: Please contact Dr. Olimpia Meucci (om29@drexel.edu) for additional information.


MERIT award extension

We received a five-year extension of our R37 MERIT (method to extend research in time) award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse! The extension will support lab’s longtime research project “Role of chemokines in neuronal function and survival.”

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Erica Dalla defends PhD thesis!

Eri DCongratulations to former lab member Erica Dalla, who successfully defended her PhD thesis at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine!

Erica worked in the lab of Dr. Julio Aguirre-Ghiso where she studied how lung macrophages control the fate of disseminated tumor cells. Her work in the PhD program contributed to several high-profile publications that capped off a highly productive period of research!

Happy Holidays from the Meucci Lab!

Meucci lab members


Jared and Chunta earn departmental awards

Chunta Ho

Chunta Ho

Jared Luchetta

Jared Luchetta

Congrats to Jared and Chunta, who were each recognized by this year’s departmental student awards!

Jared received the Ben Weiss Scholar Award, which recognizes students who display scientific excellence in their dissertation research. Jared will carry the designation of Benjamin Weiss Scholar in Pharmacology and Physiology for one year.

Chunta received the Mary Hoffman Shaw Travel Award, which provides funding to attend national scientific meetings for students performing high-quality research.

Jared Luchetta

Jared Luchetta presented for the joint NIMH center seminar series

Jared was invited to present his research this month as a part of the 2021-2022 Joint National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) center seminar series! Jared discussed his most recent work in a talk titled: Examining how CXCL12 affects structural plasticity and cortical network function. The seminar series is organized by the NIMH administrative core at Johns Hopkins University, who also host previous talks from the series on their website.

Dr. Irollo promoted to Research Assistant Professor

This month, Dr. Elena Irollo enjoyed two outstanding events. She was promoted to a new position as a Research Assistant Professor in the department, and more importantly, she has tied the knot with her husband. Congratulations, Elena & Jonathan!

Elena Irollo

Meucci and Gaskill labs publish a collaborative review article

graphical abstract

Graphical abstract

Dr. Meucci and her former student Dr. Lindsay Festa collaborated with Dr. Gaskill and his former student Dr. Emily Nickoloff on a new review article discussing how HIV co-receptor signaling can contribute to HIV pathogenesis. The review article starts with a primer on HIV pathogenesis and the chemokine co-receptors that HIV uses to infect cells, and then thoroughly explores the signaling pathways downstream of HIV-activated co-receptors and how these pathways can contribute to HIV neuropathogenesis. The article ends with a discussion of treatment strategies based on targeting HIV co-receptors and their downstream signaling pathways.

The article is titled “Co-receptor signaling in the pathogenesis of neuroHIV” and is open-access and freely available in the journal Retrovirology.



Meucci lab publishes review on neuronal dysfunction in HAND

Simplified pathways that can contribute to dendritic spine deficits in HAND (left) and pathways that counteract these effects (right).

In a new review article published in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, Dr. Meucci’s group discusses clinical evidence of disrupted neuronal connectivity in HIV patients and the molecular mechanisms that drive neuronal dysfunction and cognitive impairment in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders.

The article is titled “Mechanisms of neuronal dysfunction in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders” and is freely available here. For the PDF version, click here.


Jared Luchetta awarded neuroAIDS fellowship

Jared LuchettaJared Luchetta was appointed as a National Research Service Award (NRSA) pre-doctoral fellow on Drexel University’s Interdisciplinary and Translational Research Training Grant in NeuroAIDS. The training grant is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health as part of a long-standing collaboration between Drexel and Temple University investigators.

Congratulations Jared!


Meucci lab publishes book chapter on opioid regulation of neuronal iron homeostasis

The Meucci lab published a book chapter on known and potential opioid receptors bookmechanisms by which µ-opioid agonists regulate neuronal iron homeostasis, a new finding that has implications for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders and other neurological disorders. The chapter expands on previous work from our lab showing that morphine regulates iron storage in endolysosomes, and this leads to dendritic spine deficits in cortical neurons. In addition, the chapter covers known and probable molecular mechanisms for morphine regulation of endolysosomal iron stores, implications for other iron-related proteins including amyloid precursor protein (APP), and a new approach to determine if µ-opioid agonists regulate APP expression or processing.

This chapter was published in the second edition of the book “Opioid Receptors”, and an illustration from our chapter inspired the book cover art. The book is a part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series.

The abstract of the book chapter is available here.


Dr. Meucci contributes to article on links between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease

In collaboration with 15 researchers, Dr. Meucci contributed to a olimpia_meucciviewpoint article on how coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) could be linked to Parkinson’s disease and Parkinsonism. The article discusses current knowledge and potential mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 may establish an infection in the brain, how brain infection might lead to clinical manifestations of Parkinsonism, and current clinical reports of movement disorders in COVID-19 patients.

The article is open-access and freely available at NPJ Parkinson’s Disease.

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New Meucci lab publication shows that a chemokine can enhance cognitive flexibility

DiI spines

DiI labeling of dendritic spines in the layer II/III prefrontal cortex.

The Meucci lab recently published a new study suggesting that learning and memory problems in patients with HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) may be reversible. Using an animal model of HAND, Dr. Lindsay Festa and colleagues showed that treatment with the chemokine CXCL12 improved cognitive flexibility in a set-shifting task and increased dendritic spine density in the layer II/III prefrontal cortex, a critical brain area for flexible problem solving. CXCL12 treatment achieved these effects by activating a molecular signaling cascade via the small GTPase Rac1, which stabilized thin dendritic spines on cortical neurons. The study shows that CXCL12 reverses cognitive impairment in an animal model of HAND, suggesting that new treatments for HAND could exploit the CXCL12/Rac1 pathway in the brain.

This study is open access and freely available at eLIFE.

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DUniBo update: “The Outlooking Scientist”

Bologna collageDUniBo, the new collaboration between Drexel University and the University of Bologna, Italy – led by Dr. Olimpia Meucci (DUCOM) and Dr. Renato Brandimarti (UniBo) – received funding from the University of Bologna to launch its first exchange project titled ‘The outlooking scientist’. The grant supports a visit of four graduate students (two from each institution) to their respective academic partner. The Drexel University ambassadors for 2019 (Anthony DiNatale and Julia Farnan, trainees from the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology) returned to Philly on December 5th, 2019. The students from the University of Bologna (Ottavia Tartagni and Claudia Albertini from the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology) will arrive on January 10, 2020. The program will conclude in the Spring of 2020 with a half day workshop – organized and run by the students – focused on the impact of social media on science.

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Morphine releases iron from storage: Research summary on Neuronline

neuronline neuron

Bradley Nash and Olimpia Meucci recently published an article on the Society for Neuroscience website Neuronline breaking down the Meucci lab’s latest research on opioid regulation of neuronal iron metabolism. The article discusses why the lab was looking into opioids effects on iron, the results of our most recent study, and how the insights gained from the study may apply to several different neurological disorders. Neuronline works to promote learning and discussion of neuroscience topics and professional development of people working in the neurosciences.

Read the Neuronline article here and see the original research report published in eNeuro.

NAI seal

Dr. Meucci elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors


Congratulations to Dr. Meucci, who has been elected as a 2019 fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI)!  Each year, the NAI elects a class of academic fellows whose innovations and inventions have made a positive impact on society. The NAI fellow is the highest level of distinction for academic inventors, developed to both honor their contributions and inspire the next generation of inventors.

See the entire 2019 NAI class here, and for more information, visit the NAI website.

Dendritic spines

Meucci lab publishes review article on opioid and chemokine regulation of synaptodendritic damage in HAND


Molecular pathways discussed in this article

The Meucci lab published a new review article that outlines the interplay between chemokine and opioid signaling and how these systems may regulate synaptodendritic damage in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). The article begins with a brief discussion of synaptodendritic damage in HAND and presents a small study on region-specific synaptic damage in two animal models of HAND. This is followed by a section on the mechanisms by which µ-opioid agonists contribute to synaptodendritic damage, and a discussion on exploiting the CXCL12-CXCR4 chemokine signaling axis to guide new therapeutic approaches that reverse dendritic spine deficits in HAND.

This article is part of a special issue published in Brain Research called “NeuroHIV in the current era: mechanisms and comorbidities contributing to cognitive impairment“, for which Dr. Meucci served as the guest editor.

The full-text article is available at Pubmed Central.

Discovery Day Sign

Ipek Eralp wins 2nd place at Discovery Day 2019 poster competition


Congratulations to Ipek Eralp, who won second place in the junior graduate students poster competition at Discovery Day 2019! Ipek’s poster was titled: Morphine regulation of the iron-dependent protein ferritin heavy chain in cortical neurons: is there a role for the divalent metal transporter-1?

For more information, as well as a complete list of Discovery Day 2019 winners, visit the Drexel Discovery Day website.

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Meucci Lab publishes new collaborative study on the role of iron in neuronal opioid signaling

Visual abstractIn collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Geiger’s lab at the University of North Dakota, the Meucci lab recently published a new study describing how iron contributes to opioid-induced morphological changes in cortical neurons. Interestingly, morphine caused the release of iron stored in neuronal endolysosomes to the cytoplasm, which led to a post-transcriptional upregulation of the iron storage protein ferritin heavy chain. Increased ferritin heavy chain levels in these neurons was associated with a reduction of dendritic spine types that are thought to play important roles in learning and memory. Morphine-mediated dendritic spine deficits and ferritin heavy chain upregulation were completely blocked by selective chelation of endolysosomal iron, suggesting that these iron stores could be a new therapeutic target for opioid-using people at risk for developing cognitive impairment.

This study is featured and freely available in eNeuro, an open-access journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

Bologna Centrale

Dr. Brandimarti and Dr. Meucci Receive DUniBo 2019 Award

The University of Bologna has awarded Drs. Meucci & Brandimarti a grant to support the DUniBo initiative, which aims to increase student-centered scientific collaborations and other types of academic interactions between the University of Bologna and Drexel University. This new award will support an approximately six-month project known as The Student Ambassador, where students from each institution will spend 8-10 weeks abroad under the guidance of a faculty mentor and a fellow local student. Interested applicants should contact Dr. Meucci (om29@drexel.edu) and Dr. Brandimarti (renato.brandimarti@unibo.it) by February 25, 2019. Also see additional information.


Dr. Meucci Receives NIH MERIT Award

Dr. Meucci has been selected by The National Institute on Drug Abuse for a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award for the research grant: Role of chemokines in neuronal function and survival. The NIH MERIT program comprises an initial MERIT award and the opportunity for a five-year MERIT award extension, totaling up to 10 years of funding. MERIT awards are designed to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior, and are awarded to less than 5% of NIH-funded investigators. Congratulations to Dr. Meucci for this great achievement!

Lindsay Festa

Lindsay Festa Defends PhD Thesis

Congratulations to Lindsay Festa for successfully defending her PhD thesis titled: Defining the molecular pathways involved in CXCL12-mediated rescue of dendritic spines and cognitive deficits in an animal model of neuroHIV. The quality and impact of Lindsay’s work has been recognized both locally and internationally, as evidenced by three publications in high profile peer-reviewed journals, numerous awards and honors, and her participation in international meetings. Lindsay established new techniques in the lab to study cognitive impairment in HIV-transgenic rats, and visualize dendritic spines in different contexts, which have contributed to two additional manuscripts currently in preparation.

Dr. Meucci awarded ISA fellowship at The University of Bologna.

The Institute of Advanced Studies has invited Dr. Meucci to spend a six-week fellowship on campus in an effort to foster international collaboration and global educational initiatives.  During her stay, she also presented a seminar entitled: “Three Key Questions on NeuroHIV: What is it?  Why Should We Care?  Can We Do Something?”

Lindsay Festa wins the Barry Waterhouse outstanding platform presentation award at Discovery Day 2017.

The award is given for first place in the platform presentation competition at Drexel’s Discovery Day.  Lindsay’s talk was titled: The chemokine CXCL12 restores dendritic spine loss and cognitive deficits in a rodent model of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders.

Dr. Meucci receives Outstanding Service and Support Award from the Society on Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

The award is given in recognition of extraordinary service in facilitating the operations of society initiatives. Dr. Meucci served as the chair of the Local Organizing and Scientific Committee during the 23rd annual SNIP conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Rachel Nolan

Rachel Nolan appointed National Research Service Award (NRSA) pre-doctoral fellow in NeuroAIDS

Congratulations to Rachel Nolan on her recent appointment as a National Research Service Award (NRSA) pre-doctoral fellow on Drexel University’s Interdisciplinary and Translational Research Training Grant in NeuroAIDS, funded by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Mental Health grant T32-MH079785).

Discovery 2015

Discovery Day Oct 20th 2016



Discovery Day, the College of Medicine’s annual day of research, will be held on October 20, 2016. New this year, the event will be held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

International Symposium on Molecular Medicine & Infectious Disease


The 4th International Symposium on Molecular Medicine & Infectious Disease will take place September 13–15 at Drexel’s New College Building in Philadelphia.

2016 Pharmacology and Physiology Department Retreat

2016 department 82016 Pharmacology and Physiology Department Retreat – May 9th-10th, 2016

Lindsay Festa

Lindsay Festa awarded the Mary Shaw Travel Award

Lindsay FestaIn December, 2015, Lindsay Festa was awarded the Mary Shaw Travel Award, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Drexel University College of Medicine.

Lab Members attend Society for Neuroscience Conference, 2015

AM2015_Logo_smallLab members attending the Society for Neuroscience Conference held in Chicago from October 17-21, 2015. SfN’s 45th annual meeting is the premier venue for neuroscientists to present emerging science, learn from experts, forge collaborations with peers, explore new tools and technologies, and advance careers.

Bradely Nash

Bradley Nash wins Society on Neuroimmune Pharmacology Award

Bradely NashBradley Nash was awarded the Society on Neuroimmune Pharmacology Early Career Investigator Travel Award.
Discovery 2015

Discovery Day 2015 – 10/08/15