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Membrane physiology and transport mechanisms
Laforenza lab

Umberto Laforenza, PI


Phone: +39 0382 987568

Lab members

Giorgia Pellavio, post-doc


The research group on Membrane Physiology and transport mechanisms studies different physiological membrane processes:

1) aquaporins (AQPs) permeability;

2) nanotubes and microvesicles/exosomes.

AQPs are an integral membrane protein family (13 paralogs) that function as bidirectional water channels, permeable also to small solutes such as glycerol, urea, and hydrogen peroxide. They have been found to play a role in important unexpected cellular functions, such as cell proliferation, cell differentiation, cell migration, and cell adhesion. In particular, H2O2, the most abundant ROS, can exert a physiological effect at low concentrations, acting as signaling molecules, or a cytotoxic effect at high concentrations that may trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis).

The possibility to facilitate the diffusion of H2O2 through the biological membranes has been considered the last milestone in the timeline of hydrogen peroxide discoveries in chemistry and biology. Nanotubes and extracellular vesicles (EVs) are well-recognized means of intercellular communication.

Nanotubes are thin and long protrusions including open-ended channels that connect cells at a long distance and facilitate the exchange of cytoplasmic material, organelles, and intracellular vesicles. Cell-derived EVs can have a normal paracrine function for intercellular communication, but can also mediate disease progression and may be used for pioneering therapies.

The main research topics currently concern the study of the aquaporin-dependent hydrogen peroxide permeability in different tissues, and cells in normal and pathophysiologic conditions such as cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. The possibility of regulating pore gating by small molecules and nanoparticles is also investigated.

Another research line deals with the possible roles of AQPs in MVs and of tunneling nanotubes in cell-to-cell communication mechanisms both in normal conditions and in tumors.