Francesca Simonelli

Professor of Ophtalmology

Name Francesca
Surname Simonelli
Institution Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli
E-Mail francesca.simonelli@unicampania.it
Address Eye Clinic, Multidisciplinary Department of Medical, Surgical and Dental Sciences, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Naples, Italy
Francesca Simonelli

Member PUBLICATIONS

  • The role of optical coherence tomography in an atypical case of oculocutaneous albinism: a case report.

    Publication Date: 01/01/2012 on Case reports in ophthalmology
    by Rossi S, Testa F, Gargiulo A, Di Iorio V, Pierri RB, D'Alterio FM, Corte MD, Surace E, Simonelli F
    DOI: 10.1159/000337489

    Oculocutaneous albinism is a group of autosomal recessive disorders featuring hypopigmentation of the hair, skin and eyes. Ocular signs associated with the disease are nystagmus, decreased visual acuity, hypopigmentation of the retina, foveal hypoplasia, translucency of the iris, macular transparency, photophobia and abnormal decussation of nerve fibers at the chiasm.

  • Comprehensive mutation analysis (20 families) of the choroideremia gene reveals a missense variant that prevents the binding of REP1 with Rab geranylgeranyl transferase.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2011 on Human mutation
    by Esposito G, De Falco F, Tinto N, Testa F, Vitagliano L, Tandurella IC, Iannone L, Rossi S, Rinaldi E, Simonelli F, Zagari A, Salvatore F
    DOI: 10.1002/humu.21591

    Choroideremia (CHM), an X-linked degeneration of the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), photoreceptors, and choroid, ultimately leads to blindness. It is caused by loss-of-function of the CHM gene product, the Rab escort protein 1 (REP1) that is involved, together with its homologue REP2, in prenylation of Rab GTPases, key regulators of intracellular vesicular traffic. Here, we report the molecular characterization of 20 unrelated Italian families affected by CHM. We identified 19 different mutations, nine of which are new. In most cases, we analyzed the effect of the mutations at the mRNA level. Furthermore, we demonstrated, by in vitro trancription/translation assays, that the mutated mRNAs produced truncated proteins in all cases but one. In fact, we also identified a novel REP1 missense variant (c.1520A>G; p.H507R) associated to CHM. Thus far, only two other CHM-associated missense mutations have been identified, one of which was a splicing alteration. We investigated the impact of the p.H507R amino acid change on REP1 structure and function, thus providing the first experimental demonstration that correlates a missense mutation in CHM with a functional impairment of REP1. Overall, our results indicate that the REP1-Rab geranyl-geranyl transferase interaction and consequently REP1-mediated Rab prenylation is essential for RPE and photoreceptor function.

  • Evaluation of Italian patients with leber congenital amaurosis due to AIPL1 mutations highlights the potential applicability of gene therapy.

    Publication Date: 29/07/2011 on Investigative ophthalmology & visual science
    by Testa F, Surace EM, Rossi S, Marrocco E, Gargiulo A, Di Iorio V, Ziviello C, Nesti A, Fecarotta S, Bacci ML, Giunti M, Della Corte M, Banfi S, Auricchio A, Simonelli F
    DOI: 10.1167/iovs.10-6543

    To evaluate the suitability of gene delivery-based approaches as potential treatment of Leber congenital amaurosis 4 (LCA4) due to AIPL1 mutations.

  • AAV-mediated photoreceptor transduction of the pig cone-enriched retina.

    Publication Date: 01/07/2011 on Gene therapy
    by Mussolino C, della Corte M, Rossi S, Viola F, Di Vicino U, Marrocco E, Neglia S, Doria M, Testa F, Giovannoni R, Crasta M, Giunti M, Villani E, Lavitrano M, Bacci ML, Ratiglia R, Simonelli F, Auricchio A, Surace EM
    DOI: 10.1038/gt.2011.3

    Recent success in clinical trials supports the use of adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors for gene therapy of retinal diseases caused by defects in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). In contrast, evidence of the efficacy of AAV-mediated gene transfer to retinal photoreceptors, the major site of inherited retinal diseases, is less robust. In addition, although AAV-mediated RPE transduction appears efficient, independently of the serotype used and species treated, AAV-mediated photoreceptor gene transfer has not been systematically investigated thus so far in large animal models, which also may allow identifying relevant species-specific differences in AAV-mediated retinal transduction. In the present study, we used the porcine retina, which has a high cone/rod ratio. This feature allows to properly evaluate both cone and rod photoreceptors transduction and compare the transduction characteristics of AAV2/5 and 2/8, the two most efficient AAV vector serotypes for photoreceptor targeting. Here we show that AAV2/5 and 2/8 transduces both RPE and photoreceptors. AAV2/8 infects and transduces photoreceptor more efficiently than AAV2/5, similarly to what we have observed in the murine retina. The use of the photoreceptor-specific rhodopsin promoter restricts transgene expression to porcine rods and cones, and results in photoreceptor transduction levels similar to those obtained with the ubiquitous promoters tested. Finally, immunological, toxicological and biodistribution studies support the safety of AAV subretinal administration to the large porcine retina. The data presented here on AAV-mediated transduction of the cone-enriched porcine retina may affect the development of gene-based therapies for rare and common severe photoreceptor diseases.

  • The human visual cortex responds to gene therapy-mediated recovery of retinal function.

    Publication Date: 01/06/2011 on The Journal of clinical investigation
    by Ashtari M, Cyckowski LL, Monroe JF, Marshall KA, Chung DC, Auricchio A, Simonelli F, Leroy BP, Maguire AM, Shindler KS, Bennett J
    DOI: 10.1172/JCI57377

    Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a rare degenerative eye disease, linked to mutations in at least 14 genes. A recent gene therapy trial in patients with LCA2, who have mutations in RPE65, demonstrated that subretinal injection of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying the normal cDNA of that gene (AAV2-hRPE65v2) could markedly improve vision. However, it remains unclear how the visual cortex responds to recovery of retinal function after prolonged sensory deprivation. Here, 3 of the gene therapy trial subjects, treated at ages 8, 9, and 35 years, underwent functional MRI within 2 years of unilateral injection of AAV2-hRPE65v2. All subjects showed increased cortical activation in response to high- and medium-contrast stimuli after exposure to the treated compared with the untreated eye. Furthermore, we observed a correlation between the visual field maps and the distribution of cortical activations for the treated eyes. These data suggest that despite severe and long-term visual impairment, treated LCA2 patients have intact and responsive visual pathways. In addition, these data suggest that gene therapy resulted in not only sustained and improved visual ability, but also enhanced contrast sensitivity.

  • An atypical form of Bietti crystalline dystrophy.

    Publication Date: 01/06/2011 on Ophthalmic genetics
    by Rossi S, Testa F, Li A, Iorio VD, Zhang J, Gesualdo C, Corte MD, Chan CC, Fielding Hejtmancik J, Simonelli F
    DOI: 10.3109/13816810.2011.559653

    To describe clinical and functional features of a patient with Bietti crystalline dystrophy and atypical electroretinogram responses.

  • Molecular and clinical characterization of albinism in a large cohort of Italian patients.

    Publication Date: 14/03/2011 on Investigative ophthalmology & visual science
    by Gargiulo A, Testa F, Rossi S, Di Iorio V, Fecarotta S, de Berardinis T, Iovine A, Magli A, Signorini S, Fazzi E, Galantuomo MS, Fossarello M, Montefusco S, Ciccodicola A, Neri A, Macaluso C, Simonelli F, Surace EM
    DOI: 10.1167/iovs.10-6091

    The purpose of this study was to identify the molecular basis of albinism in a large cohort of Italian patients showing typical ocular landmarks of the disease and to provide a full characterization of the clinical ophthalmic manifestations.

  • MicroRNA-restricted transgene expression in the retina.

    Publication Date: 01/01/2011 on PloS one
    by Karali M, Manfredi A, Puppo A, Marrocco E, Gargiulo A, Allocca M, Corte MD, Rossi S, Giunti M, Bacci ML, Simonelli F, Surace EM, Banfi S, Auricchio A
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022166

    Gene transfer using adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors has been successfully applied in the retina for the treatment of inherited retinal dystrophies. Recently, microRNAs have been exploited to fine-tune transgene expression improving therapeutic outcomes. Here we evaluated the ability of retinal-expressed microRNAs to restrict AAV-mediated transgene expression to specific retinal cell types that represent the main targets of common inherited blinding conditions.

  • Gene therapy for Leber's congenital amaurosis is safe and effective through 1.5 years after vector administration.

    Publication Date: 01/03/2010 on Molecular therapy : the journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy
    by Simonelli F, Maguire AM, Testa F, Pierce EA, Mingozzi F, Bennicelli JL, Rossi S, Marshall K, Banfi S, Surace EM, Sun J, Redmond TM, Zhu X, Shindler KS, Ying GS, Ziviello C, Acerra C, Wright JF, McDonnell JW, High KA, Bennett J, Auricchio A
    DOI: 10.1038/mt.2009.277

    The safety and efficacy of gene therapy for inherited retinal diseases is being tested in humans affected with Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), an autosomal recessive blinding disease. Three independent studies have provided evidence that the subretinal administration of adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors encoding RPE65 in patients affected with LCA2 due to mutations in the RPE65 gene, is safe and, in some cases, results in efficacy. We evaluated the long-term safety and efficacy (global effects on retinal/visual function) resulting from subretinal administration of AAV2-hRPE65v2. Both the safety and the efficacy noted at early timepoints persist through at least 1.5 years after injection in the three LCA2 patients enrolled in the low dose cohort of our trial. A transient rise in neutralizing antibodies to AAV capsid was observed but there was no humoral response to RPE65 protein. The persistence of functional amelioration suggests that AAV-mediated gene transfer to the human retina does not elicit immunological responses which cause significant loss of transduced cells. The persistence of physiologic effect supports the possibility that gene therapy may influence LCA2 disease progression. The safety of the intervention and the stability of the improvement in visual and retinal function in these subjects support the use of AAV-mediated gene augmentation therapy for treatment of inherited retinal diseases.

  • Age-dependent effects of RPE65 gene therapy for Leber's congenital amaurosis: a phase 1 dose-escalation trial.

    Publication Date: 07/11/2009 on Lancet (London, England)
    by Maguire AM, High KA, Auricchio A, Wright JF, Pierce EA, Testa F, Mingozzi F, Bennicelli JL, Ying GS, Rossi S, Fulton A, Marshall KA, Banfi S, Chung DC, Morgan JI, Hauck B, Zelenaia O, Zhu X, Raffini L, Coppieters F, De Baere E, Shindler KS, Volpe NJ, Surace EM, Acerra C, Lyubarsky A, Redmond TM, Stone E, Sun J, McDonnell JW, Leroy BP, Simonelli F, Bennett J
    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61836-5

    Gene therapy has the potential to reverse disease or prevent further deterioration of vision in patients with incurable inherited retinal degeneration. We therefore did a phase 1 trial to assess the effect of gene therapy on retinal and visual function in children and adults with Leber's congenital amaurosis.