Felice Elefant, PhD

Associate Professor

Felice Elefant , Ph.D.

Office: PISB 317
Phone: 215.895.0220
Lab: PISB 312 A
Lab Phone: 215.895.0573
Website(s): The Elefant Lab

Specialization: Epigenetic mechanisms of gene control in neurodevelopment and disease


  • BS, George Washington University
  • PhD, Temple University
  • Post-doctoral fellowship, University of Pennsylvania, Departments of Genetics and Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Research Interests

Epigenetic mechanisms of gene control provide both a stable yet flexible system of regulating gene expression at each stage of neurogenesis, thus promoting basic brain and CNS development, while allowing for the neural plasticity that is essential for our different behaviors and cognitive abilities.  One such epigenetic modification is histone acetylation that serves to epigenetically “mark” DNA and associated histone proteins within chromatin at distinct sites and patterns over time to drive gene expression profiles in the brain.  The identification of a number of neurological disorders that result from histone acetylation misregulation underscores a crucial role for acetylation in proper CNS development.  However, the full array of specific histone acetyltransferase (HAT) enzymes that create these marks remain unclear. 

My laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanism(s) underlying epigenetic modes of gene control specifically associated with neurogenesis by using novel techniques in Drosophila and rodent models to identify specific HATs that regulate neuronal processes in the brain.  We are currently exploring how specific HATs control neuronal processes such as neuroblast formation, axonal outgrowth, and the synaptic plasticity involved in learning and memory, as well as investigating HAT involvement in age related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders previously not known to be epigenetically-linked.  We are also developing multicellular models for the screening and identification or epigenetically based pharmacological drugs that can specifically target and modulate these regulators and the neuronal processes they mediate.  In addition to providing new biological insight into epigenetic gene control mechanisms underlying neurogenesis, neurodegeneration, and cognitive decline during aging, these studies will be fundamental in exploring the utility of novel epigenetic-based therapeutics to improve healthcare and quality of life in the elderly.
Currently, there are two main projects ongoing in my laboratory: (please see our laboratory website for more information regarding these projects)

  • Project 1: TIP60 and Amyloid Precursor Protein in neuronal development
  • Project 2: An epigenetic role for Tip60 in age-related cognitive decline. 


1R01HD057939: “Tip60 and APP in neuronal development”



  • Xu, S., Wilf, R., Menon, T., Sarthi, J. and Elefant, F*. 2014. Epigenetic control of learning and memory in Drosophila by Tip60 HAT action. GENETICS 198(4): 1571-86. PMCID: 4256772 Editorially featured on cover and selected as Issue Highlight.
  • “Sleepy Flies Help Understand Alzheimer’s Brains” Inside Science TV Video News segment on Elefant Lab, 2014.
  • Johnson, A., Sarthi, J., Pirooznia, S., Ruebe, B., and Elefant, F*. 2013. Increasing Tip60 HAT levels rescues axonal defects and associated behavioral defects in a Drosophila Alzheimer’s disease model. Journal of Neuroscience. Apr 24;33(17):7535-47. PMCID: 3711104 Featured as a ‘Key Research Article’ in “Psychology Progress”.
  • Pirooznia, S. and Elefant, F*. 2013. Targeting Specific HATs for Neurodegenerative Disease Treatment: Translating Basic Biology to Therapeutic Possibilities. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.;7:30. PMCID: 23543406
  • Pirooznia, K.., J., Chieu, K., Chan, M., Zimmerman, J and Elefant, F*. 2012 Tip60 and APP mediate axonal growth and PDF levels in Drosophila clock neurons to regulate sleep. GENETICS 192(4):1327-45. PMCID: 3512142 Editorially featured on cover and selected as Issue Highlight.
  • Pirooznia, S., Sarthi, J., Zervos, A., Lorbeck, M., Chieu, K., Koduri, S, and Elefant, F*. 2012. Tip60 HAT activity mediates APP induced lethality and apoptotic cell death in the CNS of a Drosophila Alzheimer’s disease model. PLoS ONE 7(7):e41776. PMCID: 3406101
  • Sarthi, J.and Elefant, F*. 2011. Tip60 HAT activity controls synaptic bouton growth at the Drosophila neuromuscular junction. PLoS ONE 27;6(10):e26202. PMCID: 3203119
  • Lorbeck, M.T., Pirooznia, K., Sarthi,J. , Zhu, X, and Elefant, F*. 2011. Microarray analysis uncovers a role for Tip60 in nervous system function and general metabolism. PLoS ONE 11;6(4):e18412. PMCID: 3073973
  • Singh, N., Lorbeck, M.T., Zervos,A., Zimmerman, J, and Elefant, F*. 2010. The histone acetyltransferase Elp3 plays an active role in the control of synaptic bouton expansion and sleep in Drosophila. J. of Neurochemistry 115, 493-504. PMCID: In progress (NIHMS: 222944)
  • Zhu, X., Singh, N., Donnelly, C., Boimel, P. & Elefant, F*. 2007. The cloning and characterization of the histone acetyltransferase human homolog Dmel\TIP60 in Drosophila melanogaster: Dmel\TIP60 is essential for multicellular development. Genetics 175, 1229-40. PMCID: 1840084 Editorially Featured as Issue Highlight.