Michele Fornaro, Ph.D.

Interim Chair
Downers Grove, IL

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I joined Midwestern University in 2011 as Assistant Professor in the Anatomy Department, College of Graduate Studies. I was promoted Associate Professor with Tenure in 2014 and Professor in 2020. I teach Neuroscience in the courses offered to our Medical, Dental, Physician Assistant and masters Programs. My research interest is in the plasticity of the peripheral nervous system during develpment and adulthood.

Interim Chair

Downers Grove, IL

Chicago College of Optometry
Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine
College of Dental Medicine-Illinois
College of Graduate Studies - IL


Biomedical Sciences (M.A.)
Biomedical Sciences (M.B.S.)
Dental Medicine
Osteopathic Medicine
Physician Assistant Studies

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University of Turin
Turin - Italy | 2007 | Ph.D.


  1. Neural plasticity - I dedicated the past 15 years investigating the neuroplasticity of the adult central and peripheral nervous system. I developed in vivo, in vitro and ex vivo studies using dorsal root ganglia (DRG) as my primary model (Fig.1-3). The use of adult DRG explants allowed me to investigate axonal growth and activation of repair mechanisms in the neuronal cell bodies after nerve injury. I investigated by high resolution light microscopy stereology the changes in neuron number occurring in dorsal root ganglia after peripheral nerve injury. Evidence of BrDU-immunopositive neurons expressing neural progenitor markers supported the stereological evidence of posttraumatic neurogenesis in dorsal root ganglia and the presence of a niche of multipotent progenitor cells throughout adulthood.
  2. Peripheral nerve repair - A significant aspect of my contribution to research goes towards the field of peripheral nerve regeneration. Mostly with mouse and rat models in vivo, I explored the use of different bio-mimetic and bio-engineered material and topographic surfaces to enhance directionality of axonal growth and peripheral nerve regeneration (Fig.3). I was trained to perform surgery in animals, and I carried out the histological processing of samples, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and morphometric analysis. I also investigated ultrastructural changes in degenerating and regenerating nerves in electron microscopy and the molecular mechanisms guiding axonal growth.
  3. Neurovirology - A more recent interest brought me to explore the infectivity of neuronal cells. In collaboration with Dr. Tiwari we developed neuronal model to investigate CMV and HSV viral entry and spread. Our research mostly focused on the role of heparan sulfate in viral entry and inflammatory response.
  4. Development of the olfactory system - My particular interest focused on the earliest stages of development of the olfactory placode. Using morphological approaches I studied a precocious cluster of cells migrating from the olfactory placode toward the prosencephalic vesicle. I characterized in immunofluorescence these cells as first population of post-mitotic neurons expressing Huc/D proteins, and other markers to track these cells along the neuronal lineage. As part of my doctoral project, I spent 2 years as a fellow in Dr. Wray`s lab (CDNS-NINDS/NIH) where I studied peculiar aspects of the Gonadotropin releasing hormone-1 neurons (GnRH-1) and their migration from the olfactory placode to the Hypothalamus in early embryological stages in mouse. I studied the expression of Fe65 protein in GnRH -1 cells and its role in the commitment of immature GnRH-1 progenitors towards the neuronal lineage.


Fornaro M, Giovannelli A, Foggetti A, Muratori L, Geuna S, Novajra G, Perroteau I.  Role of neurotrophic factors in enhancing linear axonal growth of ganglionic sensory neurons  in vitroNeural Regen Res. 2020 Sep; 15 (9): 1732-1739. doi: 10.4103 / 1673-5374.276338. PubMed PMID: 32209780; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7437584.

Seng C, Shartiya H, TIwari V, Fornaro M. Involvement of heparan sulfate during mouse cytomegalovirus infection in murine-derived immortalized neuronal cell line. Future virology. 2020 June; 15 (5).

Elste J, Kaltenbach D, Patel VR, Nguyen MT, Sharthiya H, Tandon R, Mehta SK, Volin MV, Fornaro M, Tiwari V, Desai UR. Inhibition of Human Cytomegalovirus Entry into Host Cells Through a Pleiotropic Small Molecule. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb 29; 21 (5). doi: 10.3390 / ijms21051676. PubMed PMID: 32121406; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7084493.

Jaminet P, Schäufele M, Mager A, Fornaro M, Ronchi G, Geuna S, Schaller HE, Rosenberger P, Köhler D.  Expression patterns and functional evaluation of RGMa during the early phase of peripheral nerve regeneration using the mouse median nerve model. Restore Neurol Neurosci. 2019; 37 (3): 265-272. doi: 10.3233 / RNN-190913. PubMed PMID: 31177252.

Fornaro M, Sharthiya H, Tiwari V. Adult Mouse DRG Explant and Dissociated Cell Models to Investigate Neuroplasticity and Responses to Environmental Insults Including Viral Infection. J Vis Exp. 2018 Mar 9;(133). doi: 10.3791/56757. PubMed PMID: 29578527; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5931670.

Sharthiya H, Seng C, Van Kuppevelt TH, Tiwari V, Fornaro M. HSV-1 interaction to 3-O-sulfated heparan sulfate in mouse-derived DRG explant and profiles of inflammatory markers during virus infection. J Neurovirol. 2017 Jun;23(3):483-491. doi: 10.1007/s13365-017-0521-4. Epub 2017 Mar 21. PubMed PMID: 28326469; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5440488.

Sigerson CD, Dipollina CJ, Fornaro M.  Effects of chemical and physical cues in enhancing neuritogenesis and peripheral nerve regeneration. Neural Regen Res. 2016 Feb; 11 (2): 220-1. doi: 10.4103 / 1673-5374.177717. PubMed PMID: 27073363; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4810974.

Muratori L, Ronchi G, Raimondo S, Geuna S, Giacobini-Robecchi MG, Fornaro M.  Generation of new neurons in dorsal root Ganglia in adult rats after peripheral nerve crush injury. Neural Plast. 2015; 2015: 860546. doi: 10.1155 / 2015/860546. Epub 2015 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 25722894; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4333329.


2003 - Current. Member of the Society for Neuroscience.

2015 - Current. Member of editorial board of Neural plasticity, Hindawi Publising Corp.

2018 - Current. Member of the editorial board of Frontiers in Neuroanatomy

2021 Member of the editorial board of Biomolecules, MDPI


2020. Outstanding Basic Science Professor award (by CCOM class 2020).

2015. Teacher of the year award (CCOM class 2018).

2013. “Excellence in Service” award from Midwestern University, IL.

2009. Research fellowship at the “Cavalieri Ottolenghi” foundation, Turin, Italy.

2003 - 2005. Research fellowship at the NIH - CDNS / NINDS.