Dr. Fabiana Perocchi

Insights into the World of Mitochondria

Cellular “power stations” or mitochondria are Fabiana Perocchi’s passion. The research of the Rome-born scientist revolves around these energy centers of the cells: Mitochondria are the center stage of energy metabolism and are involved in many cellular tasks. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to a number of diseases. Fabiana Perocchi investigates the role of mitochondria in cell signaling. Together with her junior research group “Functional Genomics of Mitochondrial Physiology and Pathophysiology” at the Institute of Human Genetics, she is seeking to elucidate the unsolved mysteries of these organelles.

Fabiana Perocchi’s research interest is intracellular signal transduction with

Inconsistencies in scientific models have always fascinated Fabiana Perocchi. “When I discover a puzzle piece that does not seem to fit into the general concepts of a model, I get really excited,” the biologist says. “I keep obsessing about it until I’ve figured out what its function is and how it fits into the context of the whole system.”

Perocchi‘s personal puzzle piece is the signaling network of mitochondria. During her time as postdoc at Harvard Medical School she wondered why mitochondria can absorb such a large influx of calcium ions. Perocchi’s curiosity as a researcher was aroused – not least because the answer to this question might provide relevant insights for medical applications. “Knowledge just for knowledge’s sake is not enough for me,” she stresses. “What’s important is that knowledge contributes to improving health.

Perocchi found that the calcium supply in the mitochondria is crucially involved in cell signaling. Because this is disturbed in many common diseases, mitochondrial calcium signaling could provide a promising target for new therapy options. “Once we have precisely characterized calcium regulated pathways in mitochondria, we can then modulate them and develop therapies for diabetes as well as for neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases,” Perocchi says. Her team is currently analyzing the effect of various active pharmaceutical ingredients on mitochondrial function in order to subsequently seek new options for future drugs.

From Harvard, Perocchi was attracted to Helmholtz Zentrum München because of the scientific environment. “Munich is a crucible for excellence in the field of mitochondria research. The technological infrastructure and the exchange of ideas with colleagues in related fields have a very positive effect on the advancement of my research,” Perocchi adds. She also greatly appreciates the support of the administrative departments at the Center: “Here I can concentrate completely on my research – I have the feeling that a whole network of departments is behind me.

What Perocchi considers to be most important for her research group is a spirit of cooperation. “Success cannot be achieved if research is conducted in isolation,” she points out.

Everyone in the team must be motivated, curious and independent and at the same time be open to ideas and objections from colleagues. Fabiana Perocchi: “Today research is a dynamic field. Only if you integrate the insights of colleagues into your own considerations can you keep pace with developments and transfer basic research findings into medical applications.”