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Daniela Tropea is an Assistant Professor of Molecular Psychiatry since September 2014 and coordinator of the third year of BSc in Human Health and Disease since 2013. Her lab studies the molecular mechanisms involved in brain function and plasticity in Health and Disease with a particular interest in Growth Factors. During her training she identified Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) as a candidate treatment for neurodevelopmental disorders (Tropea e al., 2009), and in her lab she continues the exploration of IGF1 function in basic research and clinical studies (Pini et al., 2012; Pini et al., 2014; Pini et al., 2016). She was among the first to identify IGF1 as an effector of brain plasticity with therapeutic potential. For her expertise in neurodevelopmental disorders and IGF1, she has been invited to international conferences (including plenary speaker at the IGF1 conference in Seattle 2018) and to be an editor for special issues of scientific journals. She also has an interest in teaching and Mentoring. She teaches “Biology of Neurological and Neuropsychiatric Disorders” and she mentored a total of 4 PhD students (2 completed), 11 MSc students and 15 undergraduate students. She is the organizer of international workshop (Biology of Brain Disorders 2016) and pursue the divulgation of science to students with disadvantaged backgrounds (Trinity Access Program) and general public.

Contribution to Research

Daniela Tropea's lab studies the mechanisms of brain plasticity in health and disease and the effects of IGF1. During her first Postdoctoral training in Scuola Normale Superiore she studied the mechanisms of regeneration in adult nervous system (Tropea et al., 2003). They found that the combined action of growth factors and agents affecting the extracellular matrix integrity are synergistic for the regeneration of the nervous system. Also enriched environment contributes to the regeneration of damaged axons. At MIT she studied the molecular mechanisms of brain plasticity and their function in neurodevelopmental disorders. Her paper on activity-dependent transcription analysis, reveals that unexpected molecular mechanisms are involved in brain plasticity, and that each forms of activity dependent plasticity elicits different mechanisms (Tropea et al., 2006). During her years at MIT she identified IGF1 as a major agent for promoting development and plasticity in mutants of Autism Spectrum Disorders in particular Rett Syndrome.

The research on IGF1 and Rett syndrome stands out for its clinical relevance. Rett syndrome is a severe disorder that is lacking a treatment. In her studies she shows that IGF1 - a growth factor used in children with growth impairments - is able to ameliorate the symptoms of the disease in a mouse model of Rett, and therefore has the potential of leading to a treatment of Rett and other neurodevelopmental disorders (Tropea et al., 2009). She partecipated in safety clinical trials which showed no side effects and efficacy of the treatment (Pini et al., 2012), suggesting that IGF1 promises to be a treatment for Rett syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the next few years. Additional open label clinical studies in Italy suggest that IGF1 treatment ameliorates the symptoms of Rett in treated patients  (Pini et al., 2014, 2016). In addition, she collaborated with Prof. Walter Kaufmann, who lead the IGF1 clinical trials (Phase 2) at Childrens’ Hospital Boston (NCT01777542) to analyze the bllod samples of the patients and identify potential biomarkers which would instruct following trials. Her findings on IGF1 produced a new line of research for the use of IGF1 and its derivatives in neuropsychiatric disorders, and the efficacy of IGF1 has been proven for other disorders of the autism spectrum, and two additional clinical studies are currently in place to test IGF1 efficacy in disorders of the autism spectrum (NCT01525901, NCT01970345).

In parallel with the follow-up on the application of IGF1 for the treatment of Rett Syndrome,she studied the relation between synaptic plasticity and genes involved in neurodevelopmental disorders. Together with her team she studied the influence of different forms of stimulation on the cellular localization of Mecp2 (Corvin et al, 2012), and they studied the effect of DISC1 - a gene involved in neuropsychiatric conditions - in the expression of synaptic plasticity (Tropea et al., 2016; Tropea et al., 2018). 

ResearcherID  K-6768-2015; orcidID:

Title Authors Publication Spec
Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) L100P mutants have impaired activity dependent plasticity in vitro Tropea D, et al. Translational Psychiatry, 2015 In our first major sequencing project loss of function variants were over-represented in Neurexin and Neuroligin Interacting Protein genes: neatly mirroring the finding from our earlier pathway analysis of SNP data.
Nanotechnologies for the study of the central nervous system Ajetunmobi A, et al. Progress in Neurobiology, 2014 In a GWAS study of our cohort we provided further evidence for the role of MHC class I molecules in schizophrenia etiology.
Repeated insulin-like growth factor 1 treatment in a patient with rett syndrome: a single case study Pini G, et al. Frontiers in Paediatrics, 2014