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Elena Irollo

Elena Irollo, PhD

Research Assistant Professor

Department: Pharmacology & Physiology


  • PhD Human Biology – FAU University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany (2018)
  • MSc in Hospital Pharmacy (Specialist course degree) – University of Naples Federico II, Italy (2014)
  • MSc in Pharmacy (Pharma D) – University of Naples Federico II, Italy (2009)

Awards & Honors

  • Elsevier Award, Most Creative Event for National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week (2019)

Memberships / Professional Affiliations

  • 2021-present - Member, International Society of Neurovirology (ISNV)
  • 2019-present - Member, Society for Neuroscience (SFN)
  • 2018-present - Member, National postdoctoral association (NPA)
  • 2018-present - Member, Association for Women in Science (AWIS)
  • 2017-present - Member, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)

Elena Irollo, PhD, is a research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Research Interests

HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders and substance abuse


Dr. Irollo’s research focus in the Meucci Lab is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that contribute to HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND), particularly in the context of drug abuse.

Opioid abuse is a severe public health problem that increases the spread of HIV infection and can exacerbate HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Our published work suggests that opioids contribute to HAND by damaging synaptodendritic structures in brain areas important for learning and memory processing. We found that this occurs via a novel molecular mechanism that requires iron stored in neuronal endolysosomes. Specifically, morphine promotes endolysosomal iron efflux to the cytoplasm, which upregulates the iron storage protein ferritin heavy chain (FHC), a negative regulator of the dendritic spine promoting CXCL12/CXCR4 chemokine signaling axis. Currently, we are determining how morphine regulates endolysosomal iron efflux and if this occurs through the well-known endolysosomal iron transporter divalent metal transporter 1 (DMT1). We are also investigating if morphine modulation of neuronal iron contributes to amyloid beta (Aβ) production, as the amyloid precursor protein (APP) can be regulated by iron. Together, these studies will better characterize how opioids regulate neuronal iron metabolism and determine if iron-based pathways beyond FHC upregulation are involved in HAND with comorbid opioid use.

We are also highly interested in characterizing the physiological and pathological actions of chemokines in the central nervous system (CNS) and the interactions of chemokine receptors with other major neurotransmitter or neuropeptide receptor systems, such as glutamate and opioid receptors.

Visit the Meucci lab.


Selected Publications

“Mechanisms of neuronal dysfunction in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders”
Irollo E, Luchetta J, Ho C, Nash B, Meucci O
Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 2021 May;78(9):4283-4303. doi: 10.1007/s00018-021-03785-y. Epub 2021 Feb 13. PMID: 33585975 (2021)

“Opioid Modulation of Neuronal Iron and Potential Contributions to NeuroHIV”
Nash B, Irollo E, Brandimarti R, Meucci O
Methods in Molecular Biology. 2021;2201:139-162. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0884-5_13. PMID: 32975796 (2021)

“CXCL12-induced rescue of cortical dendritic spines and cognitive flexibility”
Festa LK, Irollo E, Platt BJ, Tian Y, Floresco S, Meucci O
Elife. 2020 Jan 23;9:e49717. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49717. PMID: 31971513 (2020)

“Morphine-Induced Modulation of Endolysosomal Iron Mediates Upregulation of Ferritin Heavy Chain in Cortical Neurons”
Nash B, Tarn K, Irollo E, Luchetta J, Festa L, Halcrow P, Datta G, Geiger JD, Meucci O
eNeuro. 2019 Jul 31;6(4):ENEURO.0237-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0237-19.2019. Print 2019 Jul/Aug. PMID: 31300544 (2019)

Contact Information

Department of Pharmacology & Physiology
245 N. 15th Street
Mail Stop 488
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Phone: 215.762.4138
Fax: 215.762.2299