Cell biology

The research activities of this area at the cross-roads of materials science, nanotechnology and cell biology, primarily focusing on how newly-discovered materials and interfacial processes can be developed and used for specific applications. In particular, our research emphasizes cytomechanic studies correlating cytomechanical profiles to the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms to isolate and study extracellular vesicles, with materials engineering promoting and driving cell adhesion and differentiation.

Cellular homeostasis and cytomechanics

The surface of living cells is strictly related to many cellular processes such as adhesion, signalling, transport, energy transformation, tumour metastasis etc. Cellular functions are mediated by a plethora of specific biomolecules including cell-to-cell adhesion proteins and those that constitute the highly complex and dynamic architecture of the cytoskeleton which, in turn, connects structurally and functionally the intracellular environments with the extracellular matrix via other adhesion molecules.

Our research activities focus on the biomolecular and cytomechanical cellular behaviour of primary fibroblast cultures related to juvenile hereditary Parkinson’s disease and of epithelial tumour cell lines. Nanomechanical properties of single cells obtained by advanced microscopic techniques allow to correlate morpho-mechanical cellular state changes upon interaction with pharmacological agents and the underlying biological \ biochemical processes.

From Left to right: Cover image of Ref. 4, selected publications; CLSM micrographs of organization of F-actin (stained with phalloidin, in red) and microtubules (stained with a-Tub, in green) filaments in fibroblasts cells (nuclei stained with DAPI, in blue) (Ref.3);  Laser scanning confocal microscopy (left) and Scanning Force Microscopy image (right) of MCF-7 cells grown on Fn modified Petri dish. Cells were stained with TRITC-labelled phalloidin to reveal F-actin and with Hoechst to detect nuclei. When grown on Fn, the cells exhibited short actin-rich extensions around their perimeters, as indicated by arrows, as well as cytoplasmic extensions at the cell edges.
From Left to right: Cover image of Ref. 4, selected publications; CLSM micrographs of organization of F-actin (stained with phalloidin, in red) and microtubules (stained with a-Tub, in green) filaments in fibroblasts cells (nuclei stained with DAPI, in blue) (Ref.3); Laser scanning confocal microscopy (left) and Scanning Force Microscopy image (right) of MCF-7 cells grown on Fn modified Petri dish. Cells were stained with TRITC-labelled phalloidin to reveal F-actin and with Hoechst to detect nuclei. When grown on Fn, the cells exhibited short actin-rich extensions around their perimeters, as indicated by arrows, as well as cytoplasmic extensions at the cell edges.

Analysis of Extracellular vesicles 

A recently developed research activity concerns the EVs isolation from fibroblasts of parkin-mutant patients and the characterization of their biochemical differences compared to EV derived from control samples. In particular, EVs are isolated from culture media by an optimized differential centrifugation protocol and their size and morphology determined by flow cytometry, electron and atomic force microscopy. We are also performing a mass spectrometry analysis to investigate their lipidomic profiles.

Materials for cell engineering

Cell engineering is a very promising research field which aims to induce specific biological processes such as proliferation and differentiation, cell-to-cell interaction, biomolecular production and extracellular matrix (ECM) formation, at the cell/material interface. Specifically cell migration is a phenomenon that is involved in different physiological processes such as morphogenesis, wound healing and tumour invasion. Biochemical or biophysical stimuli such as chemotaxis, galvanotaxis extracellular matrix compliance/stiffness and topology can influence cell migration in terms of speed, direction and persistence. The control of the cell environment by multiple physicochemical cues has therefore emerged as a key factor to enable functionality, modulate response, and affect cell behaviour.

In particular our recent studies have shown that cells are able to recognize the mechanical properties of a substratum over which they move and that these properties direct the motion through a phenomenon called durotaxis. Thus, mechanical interactions between a cell and its underlying substratum play a crucial role in modulating cell motility. We are investigating combinations of external stimuli ranging from chemical to mechanical and electrical cues in the cellular microenvironment. Moreover we are carrying out cell tracking analysis to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms underlying cell motility.

. Mechanical variables influencing cell migration. Cells movement is random on substrate with a homogeneously distributed elasticity. However on a surface with an asymmetric elasticity, cells move by durotaxis towards regions with high elasticity. Representative tissue-stiffness and Young's modulus, E. Representative examples of durotactic regulation of cell behaviour on double sheeted PDMS substrates exhibiting a mechanical gradient due to the micropattern underlying a thin membrane. (On the lower right) Immunofluorescent staining showing the response of human fibroblasts to micro-patterned PDMS double sheet substrates with mechanical gradient.

Plasma processing to control cell adhesion

The nature of the interface between cells and materials can stimulate a repulsive (or adhesive) response that can causes the cells to separate (adhere) to the desired material. This effect dramatically depends on surface properties of the material. Plasma surface modification is applicable whenever the surface of the device has to be bioactive or bioinert by changing chemical/topographical features of a material surface without affecting its bulk properties. As an example, the irreversible, undesired adhesion of biomolecules and cells (i.e. ‘biofouling’) can be controlled by a plasma assisted deposition of Polyethylene oxide (PEO)-like coatings. On the other hand, surfaces containing polar groups (i.e NH2, COOH, OH etc. …) or deposition of coatings in which biological molecules are dispersed in an organic matrix can be produced by plasma in order to impart bioactivity and biocompatibility to the surface. Finally, surfaces with micro- and nanostructured coatings can dramatically improve cell/material interactions due to topographical cues.

Sketch of the potentialities of plasma processing of surfaces in order to produce micro-nanostructured surfaces (left); unfouling surfaces (top), biomimetic/bioactive surfaces in which a coating embedding active biomolecules are deposited (right) and functional surfaces containing chemical groups like amino, carbonyl, alcoholic and carboxylic ones (bottom)
Sketch of the potentialities of plasma processing of surfaces in order to produce micro-nanostructured surfaces (left); unfouling surfaces (top), biomimetic/bioactive surfaces in which a coating embedding active biomolecules are deposited (right) and functional surfaces containing chemical groups like amino, carbonyl, alcoholic and carboxylic ones (bottom)

Plasma processing of cells and biological liquids 

Cold atmospheric pressure plasmas are emerging as an exciting development for therapeutics. These plasmas are very efficient sources of highly reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS), UV radiation, electromagnetic fields and charged particles. Experiments show that cold atmospheric plasmas allow efficient, contact-free and painless disinfection, without damaging healthy tissue. In healthcare, new horizons are being opened for wound healing, tissue regeneration, cancer therapy, and treatment of chronic wounds assisted by plasma technology.

Our facilities have been designed to allow us to study the response of different type of cells to different plasma doses and to correlate the chemical composition of plasma treated cell culture media with cell behaviour.

Negative effect of plasma dose (different treatment times) on Saos2 tumor cell lines cytoskeleton.
Negative effect of plasma dose (different treatment times) on Saos2 tumor cell lines cytoskeleton.

Facilities & Labs

NanoFab Lab @ Lecce

Lab di Caratterizzazione @ Lecce

Bio Lab @ Lecce

S.Li.M. Lab @ Roma

Bio Lab @ URT Bari

Chemical-Structural Characterization Lab@ URT Bari

Wet chemistry Lab@ URT Bari

Plasma Technologies Lab@ URT Bari




CNR Senior Research



CNR Research



CNR PostDoc

Ilaria_PalamaIlaria E.


CNR Research



CNR Research



CNR Researcher



CNR Research



Associate Professor



CNR Researcher



CNR Researcher


  1. Lippolis, R. A. Siciliano, C. Pacelli, A. Ferretta, M. F. Mazzeo, S. Scacco, F. Papa, A. Gaballo, C. Dell’Aquila, M. De Mari, S. Papa , T. Cocco, Altered protein expression  pattern in skin fibroblasts from parkin-mutant early-onset Parkinson’s disease patients. Biochimica Biophysica Acta, 1852, 1960-1970 (2015). ISSN: 0925-4439; doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2015.06.015
  2. Vergara, P. Simeone, F. Julien, M. Trerotola, A. Giudetti, L. Capobianco, A. Tinelli, C. Bellomo,
I. Fournie, A. Gaballo, S. Alberti, M. Salzet, M. Maffia, Translating epithelial mesenchymal transition markers into the clinic: Novel insights from proteomics EuPA Open Proteomics, 10, 31-41, (2016) ISSN: 2212-9685; doi:10.1016/j.euprot.2016.01.003
  3. Vergara, M. Ferraro, M.F. Cascione, L.L. del Mercato, S. Leporatti, A. Ferretta, P. Tanzarella, C. Pacelli, A. Santino, M. Maffia, T. Cocco, R. Rinaldi, A. Gaballo, Cytoskeletal Alterations and Biomechanical Properties of parkin-Mutant Human Primary Fibroblasts. Cell Biochemistry Biophysics, 71, 1395-1404, (2015). ISSN:1085-9195; doi: 10.1007/s12013-014-0362-1
  4. Ferretta, A. Gaballo, P. Tanzarella, C. Piccoli, N. Capitanio, B. Nico, T. Annese, M. Di Paola, C. Dell’aquila, M. De Mari, E. Ferranini, V. Bonifati, C. Pacelli, T. Cocco, Effect of resveratrol on mitochondrial function: implications in parkin-associated familiar Parkinson’s disease Biochimica Biophysica Acta, 1842, 902-915 (2014). ISSN: 0925-4439; doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.02.010
  5. Vergara, P. Simeone, D. Latorre, M.F. Cascione, S. Leporatti, M. Trerotola, A.M. Giudetti, L. Capobianco, P. Lunetti, A. Rizzello, R. Rinaldi, S. Alberti, M. Maffia. Proteomics analysis of E-Cadherin knockdown in epithelial breast cancer cells J. Biotechnology Special Issue EuroBiotech 22, 3-11 (2015). ISSN: 0168-1656; doi:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2014.10.034.
  6. E Palamà, S. D’Amone, B. Cortese, Chapter 22: Mechanical guidance of cell migration, Nanomaterials and Regenerative Medicine (Y. Lin and T. Gong, ed.) IAPCOBP Publishing, (2016) (invited chapter). ISBN: 978-953-56942-3-6. DOI: 10.5599/obp.9.0
  7. Pagani, R. C. Paolicelli, E. Murana, B. Cortese, S. Di Angelantonio, E. Zurolo, E.Guiducci, T. A. Ferreira, S. Garofalo, M. Catalano, G. D’Alessandro, A. Porzia, G.Peruzzi, F. Mainiero, C. Limatola, C.T. Gross, D. Ragozzino, Defective microglial development in the hippocampus of CX3CR1 deficient mice Front. Neurosci. 9,111. (2015) ISSN: 1662-5102; doi: 10.3389/fncel.2015.00111. ISSN: 1662-453X.
  8. Cortese, I.E Palamà, S. D’Amone, G. Gigli. Influence of electrotaxis on cell behaviourIntegr.Biol6,817 – 830, (2014). ISSN: 1520-6602; doi: 10.1039/C4IB00142G Integrative Biology 2014 HOT Articles.
  9. Sardella, E.R. Fisher, J.C. Shearer, M.G. Trulli, R. Gristina, P. Favia. N2/H2O plasma assisted functionalization of Poly(epsilon-caprolactone) porous scaffolds: acid/basic character versus cell behavior. Plasma processes and Polymers 12-8, 786-798 (2015). ISSN: 1612-8850; doi: 10.1002/ppap.201400201
  10. Yang, G. Camporeale, E. Sardella, G. Dilecce, J.S. Wu, F. Palumbo, P. Favia; Deposition of Hydroxyl Functionalized Films by means of water Aereosol assisted Atmospheric pressure plasma Plasma processes and polymers 11-11, 1102-1111 (2014) ISSN: 1612-8850; doi: 10.1002/ppap.201400066
  11. Trizio, E. Sardella, E. Francioso, G. Dilecce, V. Rizzi, P. Cosma, M. Schmidt, M. Hansch, T. von Woedtke, P. Favia, R. Gristina; Investigation of air-DBD effects on biological liquids for in vitro studies on eukaryotic cells, Clinical Plasma Medicine 3-2, 62-71 (2015). ISSN: 22128166; doi: 1016/j.cpme.2015.09.003.

Other selected publications

  1. C. Pacelli, D. De Rasmo, A. Signorile, I. Grattagliano, G. di Tullio, A. D’Orazio, B.Nico, G. P. Comi, D. Ronchi, E. Ferranini, D. Pirolo, P. Seibel, S. Schubert, A. Gaballo, G. Villani, T. Cocco Mitochondrial defect and PGC-1α dysfunction in parkin-associated familial Parkinson’s disease. Biochimica Biophysica Acta, 1812,1041-1053, (2011) ISSN: 0925-4439; doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2010.12.022
  2. N. Denora, V. Laquintana, A. Lopalco, R. M. Iacobazzi, A. Lopedota, A. Cutrignelli, G. Iacobellis, C. Annese, M. F. Cascione, S. Leporatti, M. Franco In vitro targeting and imaging the translocator protein TSPO 18-kDa through G(4)-PAMAM-FITC labeled dendrimers J. Contr. 172, 1111-1125 (2013). ISSN: 0168-3659; doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2013.09.024
  3. D. Vergara, P. Simeone, D. Toraldo, P. del Boccio, V. Vergaro, S. Leporatti, D. Pieragostino, A. Tinelli, S. De Domenico, S. Alberti, A. Urbani, M. Salzet, A. Santino, and M. Maffia Resveratrol downregulates Akt/GSK and ERK signalling pathways in OVCAR-3 ovarian cancer cells Molecular BioSystems 8, 1078-1087 (2012). ISSN: 1742-206X; doi: 10.1039/c2mb05486h
  4. Leporatti, D. Vergara, A. Zacheo, V. Vergaro, G. Maruccio, R. Cingolani, R. Rinaldi Cytomechanical and topological investigation of MCF-7 cells by scanning force microscopyNanotechnology 20 055103 (2009). (Paper of the month, Cover Page Issue) ISSN: 0957-4484; doi: 10.1088/0957-4484/20/5/055103
  5. I.E. Palamà, S. D’Amone, A.M.L. Coluccia, G. Gigli. Micropatterned polyelectrolyte multilayer films promote alignment and myogenic differentiation of C2C12 cells in standard growth medium. Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 110, 586-596, (2013). ISSN: 1097-0290; doi: 10.1002/bit.24626.
  6. B. Cortese,  M.O. Riehle, S. D’Amone, G. Gigli, Influence of Variable Substrate geometry on Wettability and Cellular Responses, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 394, 582–589, (2013). ISSN: 0021-9797, doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2012.11.051.
  7. I.E. Palamà, S. D’Amone, A.M.L. Coluccia, M. Biasiucci, G. Gigli Cell self-patterning on uniform PDMS-surface with controlled mechanical cues Integrative Biology, 4, 228-236, (2012). doi: 10.1039/c2ib00116k; ISSN 1757-9708; (Highlight: the paper is the 5th position of the “top ten most accessed articles” of Integrative Biology web site in the month of December 2011)
  8. B. Cortese, G. Gigli, M. Riehle, Mechanical Gradient Cues for Guided Cell Motility and Control of Cell Behaviour on uniform substrates, Adv. Funct. Mater., 19, 2961-2968, (2009). ISSN: 1616-3028; doi: 10.1002/adfm.200900918;
  9. B. Cortese, C. Piliego, I. Viola, S. D’Amone, R. Cingolani, G. Gigli, Engineering transfer of micro and nanometer scale features by surface energy modification, Langmuir, 25, 7025–7031, (2009). ISSN 0743-7463; doi: 10.1021/la900248j.
  10. G. Da ponte, E. Sardella, F. Fanelli, R. d’Agostino, R. Gristina, P. Favia; Plasma deposition of PEO-like coatings wirth aereosol assisted dielectric barrier discharges PLASMA PROCESSES AND POLYMERS 9-11 1176-1183 (2012). ISSN: 16128850; doi: 10.1002/ppap.201100201


Process for the production by plasma of nanometric thickness coatings allowing controlled release of silver ions of other elements, or of molecules of biomedical interest, from solid products, and products thus coated R. D’agostino, P. Favia, F. Fracassi, E. Sardella, C. Costagliola, A. Mangone. Patent WO2013021409-A1: E. Sardella, P. Favia et al. WO2013021409 (2013)

Abstract: Process for the production by plasmochemical deposition of a film having a nanometric thickness, optionally multilayered, permitting carrying out in a controlled, uniform and long lasting way, release of substances of interest in a surrounding medium containing liquids, from a substrate including the substance to be released as micro/nano particles, or from a layer deposited on the substrate including the substance to be released as micro/nano particles, or from a layer of the substance to be released deposited on the substrate, or from a substrate that is the substance to be released optionally in the form of particles. The substances to be released can be metals, compounds having anti-bacterial properties, biologically active molecules such as drugs, hormones, vegetable extracts, peptides, lipids, protides and glucides. The layer with the substance to be released, be it organic or inorganic, is obtained by plasmochemical deposition optionally having a structure similar to polyethylene oxide (PEO) or polyethylene glycol (PEG), called PEO-like polymers, constituted, in a variable percentage da ethylene oxide units (-CH2CH2O-, EO); barrier film is obtained by depositing by plasma at least one organic or inorganic layer, optionally with a PEO-like structure, wherein chemical composition, degree of crosslinking and thickness are adjustable by the plasmo chemical deposition process parameters, and allow to adjust the release of the active substance according to specific needs. The structures on which the above said films can be deposited are: medical-surgical devices, common handworks, structures known as scaffolds, and the above defined substances to be released themselves. The invention also relates to medical-surgical devices, common handworks and scaffolds coated by a substrate and barrier layer, as well as to biologically active substances coated by at least one barrier layer.


  1. My First AIRC Grant – Role of Electro/Mechanical cues in the control and guidance of Glioma Progression (MFAG)  2015 n. 16803 (2015-2018)
  2. SITEMA – Sviluppo di nuove metodologie e strumenti Innovativi per la diagnoSi ed il trattamento Terapeutico di tumori Epiteliali uMAni. Regione Puglia Bando “Aiuti a Sostegno Cluster Tecnologici Regionali” (2015-2017)
  3. RINOVATIS – Rigenerazione di tessuti nervosi ed osteocartilaginei mediante innovativi approcci di Tissue Engineering, PON MIUR PON02_00563_3448479, (2013-2015)


  1. Yang, G. Camporeale, E. Sardella, G. Dilecce, F. Palumbo, P. Favia, J.-S. Wu; One-step Atmospheric Pressure Plasma Synthesized Polyethylene Embedded with Tunable Amount of Lysozyme; Best Oral paper at 8th Asia-Pacific International Symposium on the Basics and Applications of Plasma Technology APSPT8 20th-22nd December, 2013, Hsinchu, Taiwan performed by the first author
  2. Camporeale, Y.W. Yang, E. Sardella, G. Dilecce, F. Palumbo, J.S. Wu, P. Favia; New protein carrier systems deposited by atmospheric pressure glow discharge fed with water-ethylene mixture Young Scientist Lecture Competition for the first author at 8th Int. Conf. on Surface, Caotings and Nano-Structured Materials; (NANOSMAT) 22-25 September 2013, Granada, Spain
  3. Trizio, R. Gristina, E. Sardella, E. Francioso, G. Dilecce, M. Schmidt, T. von Woedtke, P. Favia; Effects of air DBD on eukaryotic cells and biological liquids, Best Poster award at the 22nd International Symposium on Plasma Chemistry July 5-10, 2015 Antwerp, Belgium

Latest News

Technology Trasfer in Nanotechnology

Technology Transfer in Nanotechnology: Challenges and Opportunity

Lecce, 18/19 ottobre 2018

CNR NANOTEC c/o Campus Ecotekne

JRC in collaboration with the National Research Council (Cnr) is organising a workshop on Technology Transfer in Nanotechnology,

which will take place in CNR Nanotec (Lecce, Italy) on 18 and 19 October. This workshop is organised in the framework of the TTO-CIRCLE initiatives.   The aim of this event is to explore how technology transfer activities can be used as a mechanism to help EU industry, particularly Start-ups and SMEs, and Government in deploying and adopting Nano-technology. Practical examples will be presented to illustrate the potential of technology transfer in this area.   The workshop will gather technology providers, industry executives, technology transfer officers, policy makers and financial intermediaries to share experiences and lessons learned. One of the key objectives is to discuss policy implications at all levels that could help accelerating the adoption of Nanotechnology by the European manufacturing industry. More informations: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/communities/community/european-tto-circle/event/technology-transfer-nanotechnology Download Locandina

Nanotechnology Transfer Day

26 Luglio 2018 - Lecce

CNR NANOTEC c/o Campus Ecotekne Siglato l’accordo lo scorso maggio tra CNR NANOTEC e Pairstech Capital Management, ha preso il via la collaborazione con PhD TT per la valutazione della ricerca

E’partita la collaborazione con PhD TT per la valorizzazione della ricerca sulla base dell’accordo siglato lo scorso Maggio tra CNR NANOTEC e Pairstech Capital Management, società di gestione patrimoniale che fornisce agli investitori istituzionali e privati un insieme di veicoli di investimento, al fine di valorizzare i risultati della ricerca svolta all'interno dell'Istituto.

Giovedì 19 Luglio dalle ore 11 alle ore 14 nella sede del CNR Nanotec di Lecce si è tenuto un incontro sul trasferimento tecnologico nel settore delle nanotecnologie applicate al settore biomedicale.

L’evento è stato organizzato dall’ufficio di Trasferimento Tecnologico del CNR Nanotec che ha inaugurato con questa giornata un ciclo di eventi mirato a presentare agli attori dell’ecosistema dell’innovazione nel settore delle nanotecnologie i vari modelli e alcune best practice di trasferimento tecnologico. In questa prima giornata il dott. Heber Verri e la dott.ssa Paola Urbani hanno presentato il nuovo modello di trasferimento tecnologico PhD TTãIndex Model.

PhD TT è una realtà italiana completamente indipendente specializzata in trasferimento tecnologico, è un acceleratore organizzato per il Go to Venture Practice, orientata al mondo delle Lifes Sciences.

PhD TT ha sviluppato un nuovo modello di trasferimento tecnologico: il PhD TT©INDEX MODEL dedicato alla generazione di valore dell'innovazione, focalizzato alla riduzione dei rischi delle opportunità di investimento a sostegno della ricerca.

I ricercatori intervengono attivamente nell'analisi iniziale di fattibilità e nella costituzione della futura società (start-up), con l'obiettivo di attrarre capitale di rischio utile a sostenere la fase del trasferimento tecnologico nella visione della "Research for go-to-market".

Il modello PhD TT nasce da un bisogno del mercato, quello di far dialogare due mondi estremamente diversi tra loro: il mondo della ricerca e il mondo degli investimenti.

PhD TT supporta tutte le attività in collaborazione con il TTO - CNR Nanotec con un team di lavoro esperto e grazie a un comitato scientifico-economico qualificato.

In occasione dell'evento del 19/7 u.s. al CNR Nanotec di Lecce, PHD TT ha presentato il proprio track record, dove si sono potuti valutare in dettaglio i casi di successo di intervento del PhD TT©INDEX MODEL.

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Disordered serendipity: a glassy path to discovery

A workshop in honour of Giorgio Parisi’s 70th birthday

September 19-21, 2018 - Roma

Sapienza University

With the occasion of celebrating Giorgio Parisi 70th birthday, the conference "Disordered serendipity: a glassy path to discovery" brings to Rome many among the world-leading experts in the field of complex systems. In order to properly represent the many fields of research where Giorgio Parisi gave a relevant contribution in his studies of disordered systems, the conference covers a broad spectrum of topics: from  fundamental and rigorous analysis of the statistical mechanics of disorder systems to applications in biology and computer science. These subjects are deeply interconnected since they are characterized by the presence of glassy behavior.