Associate Professor (Docent), Group Leader

Federico Iovino

Assistant professor

Associate Professor (Docent) and Group Leader

In my lab we investigate host-pathogen interactions during bacterial infectious disease of the Central Nervous System.

About me

I have studied Human Biology and Biomedical Sciences, bachelor and master, at the University of Pavia in Italy. After my undergraduate studies, I moved to the University Medical Center of Groningen, The Netherlands, to perform my PhD in Medical Microbiology under the supervision of Prof. Jan Maarten van Dijl and Prof. Grietje Molema studying how Streptococcus pneumoniae interact with endothelial cells causing invasive pneumococcal disease, in particular meningitis. During my PhD in 2010, I have been visiting PhD student in the lab of Prof. Carlos Orihuela in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, USA. My PhD studies on pneumococcal meningitis pathogenesis have been published by international microbiology and infectious diseases journals such as Cellular Microbiology, Infection and Immunity and mBio

After my PhD graduation in November 2013, I have immediately started my postdoc in December 2013 at the Karolinska Institutet in the laboratory of Prof. Birgitta Henriques-Normark where I continued my studies on pneumococcal meningitis. My postdoc studies have been published in leading international journals like Journal of Clinical Investigation, Journal of Experimental Medicine, Journal of Infectious Diseases and Trends in Microbiology.

I was awarded in November 2018 with the 4-year funding for Assistant Professor position by the Karolinska Institutet Board of Research. I have then established my own research team within the Unit of Prof. Birgitta Henriques-Normark until December 2020. I am one of the 2020 awardee of Starting Grant in Medicine and Health from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), and in January 2021 I have started my own laboratory of neuro-infections and neuro-inflammation at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. My group investigates host-pathogen interaction during bacterial meningitis pathogenesis.  

The Iovino Laboratory



Research description

Neurological sequelae caused by meningitis: Interaction between pneumococci and neurons

Neurons are the main cell component of the brain, and mediate many functions controlled by the brain. Neurological sequelae caused by bacterial infection of the brain occur in 50% of meningitis survivors and are often related to neuronal damage. Our goal is to study how pneumococci can interact with neurons, invade and kill neuronal cells.

Publication by the Iovino Group:

PLOS Pathogens, 2021


Blockade of pneumococcal interaction with neurons, a novel therapeutic strategy to prevent neuronal damage post-bacterial meningitis

Following up our recent discovery that ß-actin mediates pneumococcal binding to neuronal plasma membrane, we are now investigating novel approaches to block the interaction of S. pneumoniae with neuronal ß-actin to protect neurons during bacterial meningitis pathogenesis. 


Study the role of neurons as "helper cells" in brain´s immunity towards bacterial infections

Neurons, as well as other eukaryotic cells, use the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy to degrade mis-folded proteins. Brain endothelial cells were previously shown to use the UPS system to kill intracellular pneumococci ( We want to investigate how neurons can use the UPS and autophagy to eliminate intracellular pneumococci and protect themselves from bacterial infections during meningitis pathogenesis. 


The interplay between pneumococci and microglia, the primary immune cells of the brain

Study the biology of how microglia sense bacterial pathogens and initiate phagocytosis and/or neuroinflammatory process during meningitis pathogenesis; Study how pneumococci in the brain can survive and grow within microglia.

Publication by the Iovino Group:

Frontiers in Microbiology, 2019


Study the pattern of entry of the brain by blood-borne S. pneumoniae

Using our bacteremia-derived meningitis mouse model and whole brain microscopy imaging, we want to identify what are the brain regions/lobes that are mostly affected by pneumococcal invasion upon penetration of the blood-brain barrier. 


The relationship between bacterial meningitis and dementia

Many molecular processes, like the injury of neuronal cells and the neuro-inflammation process, are common in both bacterial meningitis and neurodegenerative diseases. We want to investigate to what extent the neuronal damage caused by a bacterial infection of the brain can increase the risk for onset of dementia, such as Parkinson´s disease. This project is a collaboration with the research groups of Prof. Gilberto Fisone (Department of Neuroscience, KI), Prof. Per Svenningsson (Department of Clinical Neuroscience, KI), Dr. Joana Pereira (Department of Neurobiology, Care Science and Society, KI), and Prof. Fang Fang (Institute of Environmental Medicine, KI).

Publication by the Iovino Group:

Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 2021


Identification of new antimicrobial agents produced by placental amnion epithelial (AE) cells

Placental amnion epithelial (AE) cells can be isolated from a full-term placenta following live birth. AE cells have been previously reported to possess important immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties, and have been proposed for the treatment of chronic inflammation. In this project, we investigate the capacity of AE cells to secrete molecules that have bactericidal activity against penicillin-resistant S. pneumoniae clinical isolates. Our goal is to establish a new antimicrobial treatment against penicillin-resistant bacterial pathogens. This project is a collaboration with the research group of Dr. Roberto Gramignoli (Department of Laboratory Medicine Huddinge, KI).

Teaching portfolio

Biomedicine Bachelor Program - Immunology and Microbiology Course

Bacteriology. Role: Section Coordinator and Lecturer

Bacteriology Laboratory Course. Role: Course Coordinator and Lecturer

Biomedicine Master Program - Frontiers in Biomedicine Course

Role: Examining teacher

Study Program of Medicine - Disease and Illness Course

Medical Microbiology. Role: Laboratory Teacher and Lecturer

Infection Immunology. Role: Seminar teacher


2013  PhD in Medical Microbiology (University of Groningen, The Netherlands).

2008  Master in Experimental and Applied Biology, Class of Human Biology and Biomedical Sciences (University of Pavia, Italy).

2006  Bachelor in Biological Sciences, Class of Human Biology and Biomedical Sciences (University of Pavia, Italy).

Academic honours, awards and prizes


Total number of publications on Pubmed: 25

Manuscripts in preparation: 1 currently under review in Journal of Neuroinflammation

Pubmed link:

Total number of last-author and corresponding-author publications: 7

Total number of first-author publications: 16

Total citations: 563 (Google Scholar); h-index: 13 (Google Scholar); Total Impact Points: 161.2


Research Grants

2022: European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID).

2021: Magnus Bergvall Foundation; Stiftelsen för Gamla Tjänarinnor; Merck MSD Meningitis Study Group; Tore Nilson Foundation

2020: Vetenskapsrådet Four-year Starting Grant Medicine & Health; Bjarne Ahlström Foundation Award in Clinical Neurology; Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation Grants; Clas Groschinsky FoundationHKH Kronprinsessan Lovisa Association for Child Care; Magnus Bergvall Foundation; Tore Nilson Foundation

2019: StratNeuro Start-up grant; Petrus and Augusta Hedlund Foundation; Åke Wiberg Foundation; Clas Groschinsky Foundation; Loo and Hans Osterman Foundation (Geriatrics); Fredrik and Ingrid Thuring Foundation

2018: Four-year Faculty-funded Assistant Professor Position; Petrus and Augusta Hedlund Foundation; Jeansson Foundation; Åke Wiberg Foundation; HKH Kronprinsessan Lovisa Association for Child Care; Stiftelsen Längmanska Kulturfonden; Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation (Pediatrics); Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation Grants; Fredrik and Ingrid Thuring Foundation

2017: Jeansson Foundation; Åke Wiberg Foundation

2016: Karolinska Institutet for Doctoral Education (KID) Grant (co-applicant)


Awards and Prizes

World Expert: In November 2021, recognized as “World Expert” in the top 0.1% of scholars in the category “Streptococcus pneumoniae”

Bjarne Ahlström Minnesfonds pris 2020 for research in Clinical Neurology


Reviewer activity

Scientific Journals: mBio, Journal of Bacteriology, PLOS Pathogens, Molecular Microbiology, The International Journal of Medical Microbiology, Microbiology (Microbiology Society), Microbial Pathogenesis, Pathogens and Disease (FEMS), Virulence, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, Frontiers in Immunology, Frontiers in Pediatrics, Biomedicines MDPI, Pathogens MDPI, Antibiotics MDPI, Journal of Innate Immunity, Current Research in Microbial Sciences, Infection and Drug Resistance, Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, Cell Systems, Helyion (Cell Press), Journal of Neuroinflammation, Brain Research, Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, Experimental and Molecular Pathology, eBioMedicine (The Lancet), Journal of Biomedical Science, Annals of Medicine, BMJ (British Medical Journal) Case Reports, PLOS One.

Grant applications: UK Medical Research Council (MRC); Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation Grants (research area "Neuroscience"); CIISA grant call (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal).


Editorial activity

  • Member of Editorial Board (Review Editor) at Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (IF 5.293) , specialty section Bacteria and Host.  
  • Editor of the book on the subject Streptococcus pneumoniae, new volume for lab protocol based book series Methods in Molecular Biology, published by Springer.

  • Editor of the Section Clinical Infectious Diseases, part of the Encyclopedia of Infection and Immunity, published by Elsevier