Umberto Di Porzio

Researcher of Neuroscience, Former Director

Name Umberto
Surname Di Porzio
Institution CNR - IGB "Adriano Buzzati Traverso"
Telephone +39 081 6132356
Address Institute of Genetics and Biophysics – ABT Via Pietro Castellino 111 – 80131 Napoli, Italy
Umberto Di Porzio


  • The microRNA-29a Modulates Serotonin 5-HT7 Receptor Expression and Its Effects on Hippocampal Neuronal Morphology.

    Publication Date: 10/07/2019 on Molecular neurobiology
    by Volpicelli F, Speranza L, Pulcrano S, De Gregorio R, Crispino M, De Sanctis C, Leopoldo M, Lacivita E, di Porzio U, Bellenchi GC, Perrone-Capano C
    DOI: 10.1007/s12035-019-01690-x

    miRNAs are master regulators of gene expression in diverse biological processes, including the modulation of neuronal cytoarchitecture. The identification of their physiological target genes remains one of the outstanding challenges. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the activation of serotonin receptor 7 (5-HT7R) plays a key role in regulating the neuronal structure, synaptogenesis, and synaptic plasticity during embryonic and early postnatal development of the central nervous system (CNS). In order to identify putative miRNAs targeting the 3'UTR of 5-HT7R mouse transcript, we used a computational prediction tool and detected the miR-29 family members as the only candidates. Thus, since miR-29a is more expressed than other members in the brain, we investigated its possible involvement in the regulation of neuronal morphology mediated by 5-HT7R. By luciferase assay, we show that miR-29a can act as a post-transcriptional regulator of 5-HT7R mRNA. Indeed, it downregulates 5-HT7R gene expression in cultured hippocampal neurons, while the expression of other serotonin receptors is not affected. From a functional point of view, miR-29a overexpression in hippocampal primary cultures impairs the 5HT7R-dependent neurite elongation and remodeling through the inhibition of the ERK intracellular signaling pathway. In vivo, the upregulation of miR-29a in the developing hippocampus parallels with the downregulation of 5-HT7R expression, supporting the hypothesis that this miRNA is a physiological modulator of 5-HT7R expression in the CNS.

  • miR-34b/c Regulates Wnt1 and Enhances Mesencephalic Dopaminergic Neuron Differentiation.

    Publication Date: 10/04/2018 on Stem cell reports
    by De Gregorio R, Pulcrano S, De Sanctis C, Volpicelli F, Guatteo E, von Oerthel L, Latagliata EC, Esposito R, Piscitelli RM, Perrone-Capano C, Costa V, Greco D, Puglisi-Allegra S, Smidt MP, di Porzio U, Caiazzo M, Mercuri NB, Li M, Bellenchi GC
    DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.02.006

    The differentiation of dopaminergic neurons requires concerted action of morphogens and transcription factors acting in a precise and well-defined time window. Very little is known about the potential role of microRNA in these events. By performing a microRNA-mRNA paired microarray screening, we identified miR-34b/c among the most upregulated microRNAs during dopaminergic differentiation. Interestingly, miR-34b/c modulates Wnt1 expression, promotes cell cycle exit, and induces dopaminergic differentiation. When combined with transcription factors ASCL1 and NURR1, miR-34b/c doubled the yield of transdifferentiated fibroblasts into dopaminergic neurons. Induced dopaminergic (iDA) cells synthesize dopamine and show spontaneous electrical activity, reversibly blocked by tetrodotoxin, consistent with the electrophysiological properties featured by brain dopaminergic neurons. Our findings point to a role for miR-34b/c in neuronal commitment and highlight the potential of exploiting its synergy with key transcription factors in enhancing in vitro generation of dopaminergic neurons.

  • Information content of dendritic spines after motor learning.

    Publication Date: 15/01/2018 on Behavioural brain research
    by Viggiano D, Speranza L, Crispino M, Bellenchi GC, di Porzio U, Iemolo A, De Leonibus E, Volpicelli F, Perrone-Capano C
    DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.09.020

    Dendritic spines, small protrusions emerging from the dendrites of most excitatory synapses in the mammalian brain, are highly dynamic structures and their shape and number is continuously modulated by memory formation and other adaptive changes of the brain. In this study, using a behavioral paradigm of motor learning, we applied the non-linear analysis of dendritic spines to study spine complexity along dendrites of cortical and subcortical neural systems, such as the basal ganglia, that sustain important motor learning processes. We show that, after learning, the spine organization has greater complexity, as indexed by the maximum Lyapunov exponent (LyE). The positive value of the exponent demonstrates that the system is chaotic, while recurrence plots show that the system is not simply composed by random noise, but displays quasi-periodic behavior. The increase in the maximum LyE and in the system entropy after learning was confirmed by the modification of the reconstructed trajectories in phase-space. Our results suggest that the remodeling of spines, as a result of a chaotic and non-random dynamical process along dendrites, may be a general feature associated with the structural plasticity underlying processes such as long-term memory maintenance. Furthermore, this work indicates that the non-linear method is a very useful tool to allow the detection of subtle stimulus-induced changes in dendritic spine dynamics, giving a key contribution to the study of the relationship between structure and function of spines.

  • Biological bases of human musicality.

    Publication Date: 01/04/2017 on Reviews in the neurosciences
    by Perrone-Capano C, Volpicelli F, di Porzio U
    DOI: 10.1515/revneuro-2016-0046

    Music is a universal language, present in all human societies. It pervades the lives of most human beings and can recall memories and feelings of the past, can exert positive effects on our mood, can be strongly evocative and ignite intense emotions, and can establish or strengthen social bonds. In this review, we summarize the research and recent progress on the origins and neural substrates of human musicality as well as the changes in brain plasticity elicited by listening or performing music. Indeed, music improves performance in a number of cognitive tasks and may have beneficial effects on diseased brains. The emerging picture begins to unravel how and why particular brain circuits are affected by music. Numerous studies show that music affects emotions and mood, as it is strongly associated with the brain's reward system. We can therefore assume that an in-depth study of the relationship between music and the brain may help to shed light on how the mind works and how the emotions arise and may improve the methods of music-based rehabilitation for people with neurological disorders. However, many facets of the mind-music connection still remain to be explored and enlightened.

  • Serotonin 5-HT7 receptor increases the density of dendritic spines and facilitates synaptogenesis in forebrain neurons.

    Publication Date: 25/01/2017 on Journal of neurochemistry
    by Speranza L, Labus J, Volpicelli F, Guseva D, Lacivita E, Leopoldo M, Bellenchi GC, di Porzio U, Bijata M, Perrone-Capano C, Ponimaskin E
    DOI: 10.1111/jnc.13962

    Precise control of dendritic spine density and synapse formation is critical for normal and pathological brain functions. Therefore, signaling pathways influencing dendrite outgrowth and remodeling remain a subject of extensive investigations. Here, we report that prolonged activation of the serotonin 5-HT7 receptor (5-HT7R) with selective agonist LP-211 promotes formation of dendritic spines and facilitates synaptogenesis in postnatal cortical and striatal neurons. Critical role of 5-HT7R in neuronal morphogenesis was confirmed by analysis of neurons isolated from 5-HT7R-deficient mice and by pharmacological inactivation of the receptor. Acute activation of 5-HT7R results in pronounced neurite elongation in postnatal striatal and cortical neurons, thus extending previous data on the morphogenic role of 5-HT7R in embryonic and hippocampal neurons. We also observed decreased number of spines in neurons with either genetically (i.e. 5-HT7R-knock-out) or pharmacologically (i.e. antagonist treatment) blocked 5-HT7R, suggesting that constitutive 5-HT7R activity is critically involved in the spinogenesis. Moreover, cyclin-dependent kinase 5 and small GTPase Cdc42 were identified as important downstream effectors mediating morphogenic effects of 5-HT7R in neurons. Altogether, our data suggest that the 5-HT7R-mediated structural reorganization during the postnatal development might have a crucial role for the development and plasticity of forebrain areas such as cortex and striatum, and thereby can be implicated in regulation of the higher cognitive functions. Read the Editorial Highlight for this article on doi: 10.1111/jnc.13981.

  • The Brain from Within.

    Publication Date: 08/06/2016 on Frontiers in human neuroscience
    by di Porzio U
    DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00265

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) provides a powerful way to visualize brain functions and observe brain activity in response to tasks or thoughts. It allows displaying brain damages that can be quantified and linked to neurobehavioral deficits. fMRI can potentially draw a new cartography of brain functional areas, allow us to understand aspects of brain function evolution or even breach the wall into cognition and consciousness. However, fMRI is not deprived of pitfalls, such as limitation in spatial resolution, poor reproducibility, different time scales of fMRI measurements and neuron action potentials, low statistical values. Thus, caution is needed in the assessment of fMRI results and conclusions. Additional diagnostic techniques based on MRI such as arterial spin labeling (ASL) and the measurement of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) provide new tools to assess normal brain development or disruption of anatomical networks in diseases. A cutting edge of recent research uses fMRI techniques to establish a "map" of neural connections in the brain, or "connectome". It will help to develop a map of neural connections and thus understand the operation of the network. New applications combining fMRI and real time visualization of one's own brain activity (rtfMRI) could empower individuals to modify brain response and thus could enable researchers or institutions to intervene in the modification of an individual behavior. The latter in particular, as well as the concern about the confidentiality and storage of sensitive information or fMRI and lie detectors forensic use, raises new ethical questions.

  • Quantifying barcodes of dendritic spines using entropy-based metrics.

    Publication Date: 30/09/2015 on Scientific reports
    by Viggiano D, Srivastava DP, Speranza L, Perrone-Capano C, Bellenchi GC, di Porzio U, Buckley NJ
    DOI: 10.1038/srep14622

    Spine motility analysis has become the mainstay for investigating synaptic plasticity but is limited in its versatility requiring complex, non automatized instrumentations. We describe an entropy-based method for determining the spatial distribution of dendritic spines that allows successful estimation of spine motility from still images. This method has the potential to extend the applicability of spine motility analysis to ex vivo preparations.

  • Activation of 5-HT7 receptor stimulates neurite elongation through mTOR, Cdc42 and actin filaments dynamics.

    Publication Date: 11/03/2015 on Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience
    by Speranza L, Giuliano T, Volpicelli F, De Stefano ME, Lombardi L, Chambery A, Lacivita E, Leopoldo M, Bellenchi GC, di Porzio U, Crispino M, Perrone-Capano C
    DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00062

    Recent studies have indicated that the serotonin receptor subtype 7 (5-HT7R) plays a crucial role in shaping neuronal morphology during embryonic and early postnatal life. Here we show that pharmacological stimulation of 5-HT7R using a highly selective agonist, LP-211, enhances neurite outgrowth in neuronal primary cultures from the cortex, hippocampus and striatal complex of embryonic mouse brain, through multiple signal transduction pathways. All these signaling systems, involving mTOR, the Rho GTPase Cdc42, Cdk5, and ERK, are known to converge on the reorganization of cytoskeletal proteins that subserve neurite outgrowth. Indeed, our data indicate that neurite elongation stimulated by 5-HT7R is modulated by drugs affecting actin polymerization. In addition, we show, by 2D Western blot analyses, that treatment of neuronal cultures with LP-211 alters the expression profile of cofilin, an actin binding protein involved in microfilaments dynamics. Furthermore, by using microfluidic chambers that physically separate axons from the soma and dendrites, we demonstrate that agonist-dependent activation of 5-HT7R stimulates axonal elongation. Our results identify for the first time several signal transduction pathways, activated by stimulation of 5-HT7R, that converge to promote cytoskeleton reorganization and consequent modulation of axonal elongation. Therefore, the activation of 5-HT7R might represent one of the key elements regulating CNS connectivity and plasticity during development.

  • Neuronal differentiation dictates estrogen-dependent survival and ERK1/2 kinetic by means of caveolin-1.

    Publication Date: 28/10/2014 on PloS one
    by Volpicelli F, Caiazzo M, Moncharmont B, di Porzio U, Colucci-D'Amato L
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109671

    Estrogens promote a plethora of effects in the CNS that profoundly affect both its development and mature functions and are able to influence proliferation, differentiation, survival and neurotransmission. The biological effects of estrogens are cell-context specific and also depend on differentiation and/or proliferation status in a given cell type. Furthermore, estrogens activate ERK1/2 in a variety of cellular types. Here, we investigated whether ERK1/2 activation might be influenced by estrogens stimulation according to the differentiation status and the molecular mechanisms underling this phenomenon. ERK1/2 exert an opposing role on survival and death, as well as on proliferation and differentiation depending on different kinetics of phosphorylation. Hence we report that mesencephalic primary cultures and the immortalized cell line mes-c-myc A1 express estrogen receptor α and activate ERK1/2 upon E2 stimulation. Interestingly, following the arrest of proliferation and the onset of differentiation, we observe a change in the kinetic of ERKs phosphorylation induced by estrogens stimulation. Moreover, caveolin-1, a main constituent of caveolae, endogenously expressed and co-localized with ER-α on plasma membrane, is consistently up-regulated following differentiation and cell growth arrest. In addition, we demonstrate that siRNA-induced caveolin-1 down-regulation or disruption by means of ß-cyclodextrin treatment changes ERK1/2 phosphorylation in response to estrogens stimulation. Finally, caveolin-1 down-regulation abolishes estrogens-dependent survival of neurons. Thus, caveolin-1 appears to be an important player in mediating, at least, some of the non-genomic action of estrogens in neurons, in particular ERK1/2 kinetics of activation and survival.

  • The serotonin receptor 7 and the structural plasticity of brain circuits.

    Publication Date: 12/09/2014 on Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience
    by Volpicelli F, Speranza L, di Porzio U, Crispino M, Perrone-Capano C
    DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00318

    Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) modulates numerous physiological processes in the nervous system. Together with its function as neurotransmitter, 5-HT regulates neurite outgrowth, dendritic spine shape and density, growth cone motility and synapse formation during development. In the mammalian brain 5-HT innervation is virtually ubiquitous and the diversity and specificity of its signaling and function arise from at least 20 different receptors, grouped in 7 classes. Here we will focus on the role 5-HT7 receptor (5-HT7R) in the correct establishment of neuronal cytoarchitecture during development, as also suggested by its involvement in several neurodevelopmental disorders. The emerging picture shows that this receptor is a key player contributing not only to shape brain networks during development but also to remodel neuronal wiring in the mature brain, thus controlling cognitive and emotional responses. The activation of 5-HT7R might be one of the mechanisms underlying the ability of the CNS to respond to different stimuli by modulation of its circuit configuration.