Associate Professor (Docent), Principal Investigator and Group Leader

Federico Iovino

Principal researcher

Associate Professor (Docent), Principal Investigator and Group Leader

In my laboratory, we investigate bacterial interactions with brain cells during bacterial meningoencephalitis pathogenesis.

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 do 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 meningitis. 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 in mBioCellular Microbiology, Infection & Immunity, and PLOS One

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

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 at the Department of MTC until December 2020. I am one of the 2020 awardee of Starting Grant in Medicine and Health from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet). Because of my profound interest in nervous system infections, in January 2021 I have started my own independent laboratory of Neuro-Infections and Neuroinflammation at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. I was appointed Docent (Associate Professor) in Medical Microbiology in December 2021 and Principal Researcher in April 2023.

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. 


Study the pneumolysin release pattern of Streptococcus pneumoniae and its implication in neuronal cell damage

Pneumolysin is a pore-forming toxin released by Streptococcus pneumoniae and is known to damage the eukaryotic cells that gets in contact with. Pneumolysin is a conserved protein among pneumococcal serotypes, however it is not known if several isoforms of pneumolysin are released by different strains of S. pneumoniae. We want to investigate if different meningitis clinical isolates express and release different pneumolysins, and if different isoforms of pneumolysin have different pore-forming activity which can lead to different degrees of cytotoxicity towards eukaryotic cells, neurons in particular. 


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


Fluid dynamics in the brain during pneumococcal meningitis

The glymphatic system is responsible for solute exchange and clearance is a critical process to maintain proper brain homeostasis and take away from the brain harmful material. During pneumococcal meningitis, the glymphatic system's functionality is impaired and the lack of proper solute exchange process leads to a progressive accumulation in the brain of bacteria and bacterial toxic components with consequent neuroinflammation and neuronal damage. In this project, we investigate how physiological processes of the brain are altered during cerebral invasive infectious diseases and how we can translate our results into new therapeutic strategies to preserve solute exchange systems to protect the brain during infections.

Publication by the Iovino Group:

mBio, 2022

Teaching portfolio

Course coordinator and Lecturer: The interplay between neuro-infections and neurodegenerative diseases Course, PhD course, Doctoral Program in Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

Lecturer: Infection and Immunology and “Medical Microbiology” (Illness and Disease Course, Study Program of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet), “Pneumococcal Infections” (Cellular and Molecular Infection PhD course, Karolinska Institutet), “Bacteriology” (Frontiers in Biomedicine Course, Biomedicine Master’s Program, Karolinska Institutet).

Examining teacher: Frontiers in Biomedicine Course, Biomedicine Master’s Program, Karolinska Institutet.


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: 27

Pubmed link:

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

Total number of first-author publications: 16

Total citations: 722 (Google Scholar); h-index: 14 (Google Scholar); Total Impact Points: 215.394


Research Grants

2023: Weka Ekström Fund for Pediatric Research, Magnus Bergvall Foundation, Strategic Fund (Dept Neuroscience, KI), Stiftelsen Tysta Skolan, ItsME Foundation, HKH Crown Princess Lovisa's Association for Child Care.

2022: European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID), Bjarne Ahlström Memorial Fund in Clinical Neurology, Åhlén Foundation, Magnus Bergvall Foundation

2021: Magnus Bergvall Foundation Stiftelsen för Gamla Tjänarinnor, MSD Sverige Meningitis Study Group, Tore Nilson Foundation.

2020: Vetenskapsrådet Four-year Starting Grant Medicine & Health, Bjarne Ahlström Memorial Fund Prize in Clinical Neurology, Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation Grants, Clas Groschinsky Memorial Fund, HKH Crown Princess Lovisa's 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 Memorial Fund, Loo and Hans Osterman Foundation (Geriatrics), Fredrik and Ingrid Thuring Foundation.

2018: Four-year Faculty-funded Assistant Professor Position (Karolinska Instituet Committee for Research), Petrus and Augusta Hedlund Foundation, Jeansson Foundation, Åke Wiberg Foundation, HKH Crown Princess Lovisa's Association for Child Care, Stiftelsen Längmanska Culture Foundation (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 Memorial Fund Prize 2020 for research in Clinical Neurology


Reviewer activity

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

Grant applications: UK Medical Research Council; French National Research Agency (ANR); Swiss National Science Foundation; Caixa Foundation (CaixaResearch Health Call, Spain); CIISA grant call (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal); Karolinska Institutet Research Foundation Grants (research area “Neuroscience”).


Editorial activity

  • Member of Editorial Board (Review Editor) at Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (IF 6.073) , 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 


Special assignments

  • PI representative, Advisory Board of Department of Neuroscience
  • Safety representative, Department of Neuroscience
  • Organizer of Department of Neuroscience Scientific Seminars
  • Member of Biomedicum Work Environment Group