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Davide De Pietri Tonelli

Senior Researcher Tenure Track - Principal Investigator
Group Leader of Neurobiology of miRNA lab.

Research Line

Neurobiology of miRNA


IIT Central Research Labs Genova


Via Morego 30
+39 010 2896 725
0039 010 71781725
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Education: Degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology at University of Milano (Italy). PhD in Neurobiology at University of Varese (Italy).

Working experience: 1999-2003 Research Fellow at DIBIT, Vita-Salute San Raffaele Institute, Milano (Italy). Where he worked on post-transcriptional control of gene expression, in particular he investigated a tissue-specific Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES) and BACE1 mRNA (encoding the ß-secretase protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease) translation, in normal and pathological conditions. 2004 to 2008 Post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Wieland Huttner at Max-Planck Institute of Molecular Cell-Biology and Genetics, Dresden (Germany). Where he started a project on microRNAs in the control of mouse neurogenesis and neocortical development. He also developed a Dual Fluorescence Reporter/Sensor (DFRS) plasmid for the acute in vivo detection of miRNAs expression at the single-cell level, and collaborated with Clontech inc. (Mountain View, CA, USA) for the application of DFRS plasmid to biotechnology. 2008 Team leader (without budget independence) at the Neuroscience and Brain Tech dept. of the Italian Institute of Technology. Since 11/2013 Tenure Track Senior researcher, PI of the Neurobiology of miRNAs lab. same institute.

Membership of Professional Societies:

2008 – Present   Full Member, RNA Society 

2010 – Present   Full Member, International Society for Stem Cells Research

2015 – Present   Associate Member, Japan Neuroscience Society

Regular Reviewer for the Journals (listed in alphabetical order): Biol Psych; Brain Plast; Cell Mol Life Sci; Development; Develop Biol; EMBO Rep; Front Neurosci; Genes Brain Behav; Hum Mol Gen; Int J Dev Neurosci; J Mol Neurosci; J Neurosci; Mol. Psych; Nature Comm; Neurogenesis; Neuron; Nucl Acids Res; Prog Neurob; RNA Biol; RNA; Sci Rep; Stem Cells Dev; Stem Cell Rep; Trend. Biotech.

Grant reviewer: 2011 Singapore Medical Research Council, SG; 2015 Swiss National Research Foundation, CH; 2017 Wellcome-Trust, UK


Since 2013 – Editorial board member, Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience

2017 Symposium co-organizer “Emerging complexity and functions of miRNAs-dependent regulation in neuroscience”; German Neuroscience Society meeting. Göttingen, Germany.

2017 External Member of the PhD evaluation committee, Amsterdam Univ, The Netherlands


MicroRNAs are small noncoding RNAs that have been found in most animals and plants and shown to exert essential roles by regulating the stability and translation of target mRNAs. 70% of the known miRNAs are enriched in the CNS, and they have been involved in neuronal differentiation, physiology and survival.
Current Projects:
1) Neurogenesis is the process of generation of new neurons from neural stem/progenitors cells. Embryonic neurogensis give rises to most of the neurons in our brain, but this process persists in restricted areas of the adult mammalian brain. Adult neurogenesis may influence learning and memory but also be an intrinsic compensatory response to self-repair the adult nervous system. Understanding the mechanisms controlling the adult neurogenesis might have potential implications for therapeutic development. We aim to compare mouse embryonic neurogenesis with adult neurogenesis with respect to their requirement for miRNAs function in vivo/vitro.
2) Circadian rhythms are present in all photosensitive forms of life on the planet Earth, including Humans, setting organism functions on a 24h time scale. All animals have an internal “clock” that regulates behavioral and physiological processes. Keeping internal clock "on time" exerts positive effects on our health. Our internal timekeeping mechanism is primarily located in the brain. Astrocytes (the most abundant cells of human brain) are intimately interconnected with neurons and required for the modulation of their activity, but until now, it was unknown whether astrocyte function is required for coupling circadian neuronal oscillations, in mammals. The alternating expression of the circadian genes makes the clock of our cells to “tick”. We are currently focusing on the role of role of astrocytes circadian rhythms (Astroclock) in the regulation of brain function. We aim to identify the molecular mechanism of astrocytes circadian rhytms, focusing in particular on small noncoding RNAs.

Industrial collaborations:

Collaboration with Techniplast SPA (Italy)

Former Lab Members:

01/2008 – 03/2012          Yoanne M. Clovis  (PhD Student).

01/2012 – 12/2014          Emanuela de Luca (PhD Student). 

01/2012 –02/2015           Federica Marinaro (PhD Student). 

01/2012 – 03/2015          Alessandro Simi (Cotutored PhD Student).

09/2011 – 05/2013          Francesco Niola, PhD  (Senior Postdoc, Marie Curie Fellow). 

05/2014  – 09/2015         Philipp Follert, PhD (Postdoc). 

2013 – 2017                    Meritxell Pons-Espinal, PhD (Postdoc). 

Selected Publications

Full publication list: Link to PubMed


-Process and device for the determination of alterations in neuronal connectivity and/or morphology; 2015-02-19 | patent PAT: US 20150051109 A1

-Composizione farmaceutica di miRNA e suoi usi terapeutici. Depositato all’ufficio brevetti Italiano Sept.,19th 2016. Rif IIT PT160330; n. 102016000093825



EU-REA, Marie Curie Actions (MCA) Call: FP7-PEOPLE-2010-RG. TITLE: NEUROGENESIS IN 22Q11.2 DELETION SYNDROME: ROLE OF microRNAs. ACRONYM: MIRNAS/22Q11DS. D. De Pietri Tonelli, Coordinator; F. Niola, Grantee. Project Budget, 100.000 Euros. Project duration 2011-2015.

FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF. Acronym: “ASTROCLOCK”; Title “Astrocyte regulation of circadian behaviour” Olga Barca Mayo (Grantee); Davide De Pietri Tonelli (Scientific Coordinator). Project Budget: 241.567 €; Project Duration: 2014 – 2016.

AIRC - Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro. Title: Stimuli-Responsive Nanoparticles for eradicating different subsets of cancer cells within tumors. PI Teresa Pellegrino; Davide De Pietri Tonelli (Collaborator). Project Budget 180.000 €; Project Duration 02/01/2014-01/01/2017.

Fondazione CARIPLO, Call 2015 “Biomedical research on ageing-related diseases”. Title “Role of the astrocyte-mediated circadian clock in neurodegeneration and brain aging”. PI/Coordinator Francesco Nicassio IIT@SEMM, Milan; Co-PIs: Davide De Pietri Tonelli, Olga Barca Mayo (NBT Dept. IIT Genoa) and Michele Cilli (H San Martino, Genoa). Project Budget 349,650 €. Project duration 2016-2020

AIRC - Investigator Grant. Role PI. Title: Differentiation therapy for GBM through synergic action of 11 miRNAs/drugs delivered via lipid/polymeric nanoparticles. Project Budget 599.610 €. Project Duration 2018-2022


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.