Francesca Pignoni profile picture
315 464-8122

Francesca Pignoni, PhD

4601 Institute For Human Performance (IHP)
505 Irving Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13210
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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Biomedical Sciences Program
Neuroscience and Physiology
Neuroscience Program
Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences


Neurogenesis; Retinal Progenitor Cells Specification and Proliferation; Genetic Control of Stem Cell Identity and Maintenance; Disease Genes Analysis in Drosophila


PhD: University of California at Los Angeles
Postdoctoral Fellow: University of California at Los Angeles


The Pignoni laboratory seeks to understand how signaling pathways and transcription factors drive key steps in eye development.

We primarily utilize the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as our model system, since it provides an incomparable platform for genetic analyses. We also work in cell culture and in yeast to investigate transcriptional regulation, cell-cell signaling and protein-protein interactions at a molecular level. Lastly, we apply functional genomics approaches to understand gene networks.

Main research areas:

1 - Integration of signaling pathway and nuclear factor inputs at developmental transitions.

We focus on two key developmental events as our experimental models: a) the progenitor => neuron transition in the developing fly eye epithelium. This model offers an ideal setting to dissected how evolutionarily conserved factors confer proneural competence to retinal progenitor cells then drive their development into photoreceptor neurons. b) the neural versus non-neural fate choice in the early fly eye epithelium. A fundamental binary choice occurs during early development of the eye in both fly and vertebrates leading to the acquisition of neural fate (retina) and non-neural fate (support tissue) in different regions of the optic epithelium. We seek to understand how multiple factors control this process in the fly and the significance of their striking conservation of roles in vertebrate eye development.

2 - Cofactor-mediated functional specialization of SO/SIX-based transcription complexes.

SO/SIX-based transcriptional complexes are involved in many developmental events and control the formation of the compound eye in the fly and of the ear and eye in vertebrates. In humans, genes encoding SIX family transcription factors and one of their partner co-factors, EYA, are associated with eye and ear developmental defects that result in loss of vision or hearing. We use the fly model to understand how the diverse composition of SO/SIX-based complexes leads to functional specialization in transcriptional regulation.

3 - Modulation of BMP signaling and other functions of Lili/LMBR1L in fly and vertebrates.

We recently discovered that the fly homologue of the LMBR1L receptor, which we named Lilipod or Lili, modulates the activity of the BMP2/4 signaling pathway in ovarian stem cells. We seek to understand the molecular mechanism for Lili function in the BMP and other signaling pathways, as well as to extend our findings to LMBR1L function in the human eye.

4 - Maintenance of tissue morphology in the eye disc of Drosophila.

Through an RNAi-based genetic screen, we have identified a set of genes that control the overal eye-disc morphology at a time of exponential growth and eye morphogenenesis. Analysis of the contribution of beta-Catenin to this process is currently in progress. The role of the ECM, Integrin signaling and the Mitf trascription factor will be investigated in the future.


Selected Publications

1 - Integration of signaling pathway and nuclear factor inputs at developmental transitions.

Neal SJ, Zhou Q and Pignoni F: The major cellular phophatase PP2A suppresses retina fate and promotes peripodial epithelium in the eye disc of Drosophila. (submitted)

Zhou Q, Yu L, Friedrich M, Pignoni F: Distinct regulation of atonal in a visual organ of Drosophila: Organ-specific enhancer and lack of autoregulation in the larval eye. Dev Biol 2017, 421:67-76.

Zhou Q, DeSantis DF, Friedrich M, Pignoni F: Shared and distinct mechanisms of atonal regulation in Drosophila ocelli and compound eyes. Dev Biol 2016, 418:10-16.

Zhang T, Zhou Q, Pignoni F: Yki/YAP, Sd/TEAD and Hth/MEIS control tissue specification in the Drosophila eye disc epithelium. PLoS One 2011, 6:e22278.

2 - Cofactor-mediated functional specialization of SO/SIX-based transcription complexes.

Xhou Q, Pina C, Pignoni F. Generation of single-PPI defective Sine oculis variants for functional analysis in vivo. (in preparation)

Moody SA, Neilson KM, Kenyon KL, Alfandari D, Pignoni F. Using Xenopus to discover new genes involved in Branchiootorenal Spectrum Disorders. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol 2015, 178:16-24.

Neilson KM, Pignoni F, Yan B, Moody SA: Developmental expression patterns of candidate cofactors for vertebrate six family transcription factors. Dev Dyn 2010, 239:3446-3466.

Kenyon KL, Yang-Zhou D, Cai CQ, Tran S, Clouser C, Decene G, Ranade S, Pignoni F: Partner specificity is essential for proper function of the SIX-type homeodomain proteins Sine oculis and Optix during fly eye development. Dev Biol 2005, 286:158-168.

Brugmann SA, Pandur PD, Kenyon KL, Pignoni F, Moody SA: Six1 promotes a placodal fate within the lateral neurogenic ectoderm by functioning as both a transcriptional activator and repressor. Development 2004, 131:5871-5881.

Pignoni F, Hu B, Zavitz KH, Xiao J, Garrity PA, Zipursky SL: The eye-specification proteins So and Eya form a complex and regulate multiple steps in Drosophila eye development. Cell 1997, 91:881-891.

3 - Modulation of BMP signaling and other functions of Lili/LMBR1L in fly and vertebrates.

Neal SJ*, Dolezal D*, Jusic N, Pignoni F: Drosophila ML-DmD17-c3 cells respond robustly to Dpp and exhibit complex transcriptional feedback on BMP signaling components. BMC Dev Bio 2019, 19:1.

Dolezal D, Liu Z, Zhou Q, Pignoni F: Fly LMBR1/LIMR-type protein Lilipod promotes germ-line stem cell self-renewal by enhancing BMP signaling.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2015, 112:13928-13933.

4 - Maintenance of tissue morphology in the eye disc of Drosophila.

Several manuscripts are in various stages of preparation.


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