Tra i numerosi neurotrasmettitori presenti nel cervello umano si trovano alcune molecole di natura lipidica – derivanti cioè dai grassi della cellula – che non sono né immagazzinate in vescicole né liberate attraverso un processo di neurosecrezione, ma sono invece prodotte "su richiesta" dai neuroni quando questi sono stimolati da trasmettitori eccitatori quali il glutammato o l’acetilcolina. Questi lipidi si chiamano cannabinoidi endogeni, o endocannabinoidi,
Daniele Piomelli was born and educated in Naples, Italy, where he earned his degree of Doctor of Pharmacy in 1982. He moved to New York City in 1983, where he studied Pharmacology and Neuroscience with James H. Schwartz and Eric Kandel at Columbia University, and later with Paul Greengard at the Rockefeller University. Kandel and Greengard received in 2000 the Nobel Prize for their contributions to medicine. After working at the INSERM in Paris (France) and at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, with Nobel Prize-winner Gerald Edelman, Daniele joined the University of California, Irvine, where he is now Louise Turner Arnold Chair in Neurosciences and Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry. In addition, he is the founding director of the unit of drug discovery and development (D3) at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, Italy.
Daniele has made several contributions to the pharmacology of lipid-based signaling molecules. With his collaborators, he elucidated the biochemical pathways involved in the formation and deactivation of endocannabinoid substances – including anandamide and 2-AG – and uncovered various physiological functions served by these substances in the brain and in peripheral tissues. Additionally, his lab discovered the role of the lipid amides – oleoylethanolamide and palmitoylethanolamide – in the control of energy balance, inflammation and pain, and identified their cellular receptors. Finally, Daniele and his collaborators developed pharmacological agents that target various aspects of endocannabinoid and lipid amide signaling, which could be useful in the treatment of pain, anxiety disorders, addiction and inflammation. These include the first inhibitors of the degradation of anandamide (‘FAAH inhibitors’) and palmitoylethanolamide (‘NAAA inhibitors’), which are both undergoing clinical development, and the first inhibitors of ceramide hydrolysis to sphingosine (‘AC inhibitors’), which are now in preclinical testing.
Daniele is an author in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Nature, Science, PNAS and Nature Neuroscience, three full-length books, and 25 patents. He has received several awards and honors, including the Dargut and Milena Kemali Prize in Neuroscience, the European Lipid Award and the National Alliance for Research on Depression and Schizophrenia (NARSAD) Outstanding Investigator Award. He co-founded the biopharmaceutical start-ups Kadmus Pharmaceuticals, Thesan Pharmaceuticals and NeoKera Therapeutics, all based on discoveries made in his lab.