One of many research initiatives in the Matthews' lab focuses on the role of extracellular matrix and cell surface glycoproteins in the developing nervous system and in learning, memory, plasticity and diseases. This slide shows extracellular matrix (ECM) staining on a glioma initiating cell.

Neuroscience Program Faculty

Francesca Pignoni, PhD

Francesca Pignoni, PhD
Appointed 07/01/09
4610 Institute For Human Performance (IHP)
505 Irving Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13210

315 464-8122

Current Appointments

Hospital Campus

  • Downtown

Research Programs and Affiliations

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biomedical Sciences Program
  • Neuroscience Program
  • Ophthalmology

Education & Fellowships

  • PhD: University of California at Los Angeles
  • Postdoctoral Fellow: University of California at Los Angeles

Research Interests

  • Neurogenesis; Retinal Progenitor Cells Specification and Proliferation; Genetic Control of Stem Cell Identity and Maintenance; Disease Genes Analysis in Drosophila

Web Resources


Link to PubMed External Icon (Opens new window. Close the PubMed window to return to this page.)



Eye (retina) development - Ongoing work focuses on three areas: 1) the identification and characterization of genes involved in eye formation through a large-scale transgenic RNAi screen. In collaboration with the Viczian lab, the potential role of selected genes during vertebrate eye development will  be invesitgated in Xenopus. 2) functional disssection of the Sine oculis (SO) protein.  The SO transcription factor controls multiple aspects of eye development (e.g. specification, neurogenesis and differentiation) in concert with different cofactors. We are investigating the role of specific SO-partner interactions in vivo. 3) genetic control of regional specification in the developing eye epithelium. Multiple signaling pathways and transcription factors control the emergence of regional or tissue identity within the eye-antennal disc (the progenitor epithelium that gives rise to the fly head and the eye). Genetic and molecular studies aim to characterize the genetic network active during the early stages of head/eye formation.

Fly models for the study of human diseases - We use the Drosophila model to characterize the activity of mutant genes linked to human diseases (e.g. RD). Pharmacological or genetic modification of an abnormal phenotype induced in the fly eye can provide insights into the disease mechansism at the molecular level and/or suggest novel theurapeutic targets.

 Cancer - The goal of this project is to indentify, and then investigate, the cellular processes that underlie the transition from tumor-like to cancer-like behavior (induction of metastases) in cells already compromised by an initial 'oncogenic hit'  (e.g. with activated Ras or Raf kinase). The extensive collection of transgenic RNAi lines each targeted to one gene available in Drosophila allows us to explore a large number of genetic pathways and cellular processes.

 Stem Cells - We are characterizing a novel receptor-ligand pair required for the maintenance of germ-line stem cells in the Drosophila ovary. Further studies in other Drosophila stem cell systems (e.g. male germ line and/or intestinal stem cells) and testing in vertebrate species are planned.



T. Zhang, Q. Zhou and F. Pignoni (2011) Tissue specification in the Drosophila eye disc. Submitted.

L. Yu, Q. Zhou, C. Zhang and F. Pignoni (2011) Identification, expression and functional equivalence of Bombyx mori Atonal with the fly proneural factor. Submitted.

K. M. Neilson, F. Pignoni, B. Yan, S. A. Moody (2010) Developmental expression patterns of candidate cofactors for vertebrate six family transcription factors. Dev. Dyn. 239(12):3446-66.

S. S. Ranade, D. Yang-Zhou, S. W. Kong, E. McDonald, T. Cook and F. Pignoni (2008) Analysis of the Otd-dependent transcriptome supports the evolutionary conservation of CRX/OTX/OTD functions in flies and vertebrates. Dev. Biol., 315:521-534.

T. Zhang, S. Ranade, C. Q. Cai, C. Clouser and F. Pignoni (2006) Direct control of neurogenesis by selector factors in the fly eye: regulation of atonal by Ey and So. Development 133:4881-9.



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Additional Collaborators

  • Paul Gold, PhD External Icon
    Professor, Biology (Syracuse University)
    Research Interests: Aging, Cell Signaling and Communication, Learning, Memory, and Plasticity, Neurological and Psychiatric Conditions.
  • James Hewett, PhD External Icon
    Associate Professor, Biology (Syracuse University)
    Research Interests: Neuroscience and Central Nervous System Neurobiology and Pathology: Neuromodulators and Epilepsy: Arachidonic Acid Metabolism and Cyclooxygenase-2: Cytokines and Interleukin-1beta: Signal Transduction and Gene Expression.
  • Sandra Hewett, PhD External Icon
    Professor, Neuroscience, Biology (Syracuse University)
    Research Interests: Mechanisms underlying cell death in the central nervous system: the interplay between excitotoxicity and inflammation.
  • Donna Korol, PhD External Icon
    Associate Professor, Biology (Syracuse University)
    Research Interests: Neural mechanisms of learning and memory across the lifespan.
  • Katharine (Kate) Lewis, PhD External Icon
    Associate Professor, Biology (Syracuse University)
    Research Interests: Specification and patterning of spinal cord interneurons; Formation of functional neuronal circuitry; Evolution of spinal cord patterning and function; Dorsal-ventral neural tube patterning; zebrafish development.