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Felice Elefant , Ph.D.

Felice Elefant, PhD

Department of Biology
Office: PISB 317
Phone: 215.895.0220
Lab Location: PISB 312 A
Lab Phone: 215.895.0573
Additional Sites: The Elefant Lab


  • BS, George Washington University
  • PhD, Temple University
  • Postdoc, Epigenetics, University of Pennsylvania, Departments of Genetics and Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Research Interests:

My research program is focused on understanding epigenetic mechanisms that govern higher order brain function via chromatin packaging in neurons. Epigenetic gene control in the brain is a fundamental mechanism for orchestrating dynamic gene expression profiles critical for cognitive function. One of the best characterized epigenetic mark crucial for learning and memory is histone acetylation that regulates cognitive gene expression by controlling chromatin packaging in neurons. Appropriate histone acetylation homeostasis is maintained by the antagonistic activity of histone acetyltransferase (HAT) and histone deacetylases (HDAC). Numerous studies, including our own research, have shown that disruption of this finely tuned epigenetic balance in the brain involving reduced histone acetylation levels causes an epigenetic blockade of transcription with concomitant cognitive impairment that is a key step in neurodegenerative disease etiology including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Nevertheless, the specific HATs that generate these neuroepigenetic marks and their mechanisms of action in neural epigenetic gene control in the brain remain largely unknown. My laboratory is focused on understanding the role(s) of specific HATs in higher order brain function and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding such processes will likely provide safer and selective ways to promote histone acetylation mediated cognitive enhancement benefits in clinical settings.


Biosketch (PDF)

Selected Publications:

  • Panikker, P.+, Xu, S.+, Beaver, M.+, Ahktar, S#, Elefant, F*. 2018. Restoring Tip60 HAT/HDAC2 balance in the neurodegenerative brain relieves epigenetic transcriptional repression and reinstates cognition, Journal of Neuroscience, 2018 Apr 13. pii: 2840-17. Featured in Newsweek, Drexel NOW, US Against Alzheimer’s, News Medical Life Sciences, Tech & Science, Science Daily.
  • Gulchina, Y.+, Xu, S.+, Snyder, MA+, Elefant F*., Gao, W*. 2017. Epigenetic mechanisms of synaptic NMDA receptor hypofunction during development of the prefrontal cortex of the MAM model for schizophrenia. J Neurochemistry. Jun 19. doi: 10.1111/jnc.14101. * Co-corresponding authors. Selected as focus article for Editorial Highlight
  • Xu, S.+, Panikker, P.+, Iqbal, S.#, Elefant, F*. 2016. Tip60 HAT action mediates environmental enrichment induced cognitive restoration. PloS ONE, 11(7);e0159623.
  • Xu S+, Wilf R+, Menon T.#, Panikker P+, Sarthi J.+, Elefant F*. 2014. Epigenetic control of learning and memory in Drosophila by Tip60 HAT action. Genetics 198(4):1571-86. Editorially featured on cover as Issue Highlight
  • 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.