Stefano Schiaffino#

A short laudatio by Margaret Buckingham#


Stefano Schiaffino is a distinguished muscle biologist. In the first part of his scientific career he defined the heterogeneity of cells in skeletal and cardiac muscle, focussing on the characterisation of myosin heavy chain isoforms which determine fibre type specificity. For skeletal muscle, he discovered a novel fast-type myosin, called type 2X, and a corresponding fibre type, distinct from the traditional fast 2A and 2B fibres. Recently he has characterised further novel isoforms in extraocular muscles and muscle spindles. For cardiac muscle, he first described heterogeneity in myosin composition, thus providing molecular markers that distinguish between cardiac muscle cell populations in atrial and ventricular myocardium and in heart conduction tissue. These findings are of manor importance for characterising muscle types under normal and pathological conditions and for understanding muscle physiology.

In the last ten years, Stefano Schiaffino has shifted his research activity to cell signalling in adult skeletal muscle, focussing on the mechanisms that control fibre type specification and the changes that occur on atrophy or hypertrophy. Using an elegant in vivo transfection approach, his laboratory generated selective perturbations in different signalling pathways and examined the effects on the transfected fibres. This led to the identification of the pathways that mediate the effect of nerve activity on the muscle phenotype. They thus showed that the Ras-ERK and calcineurin-NFAT pathways control activity-dependent fibre type specification, while the Akt-mTOR and Akt-FoxO pathways control the processes of atrophy or hypertrophy. This constituted a mechanistic break through, acclaimed by the international community. His most recent studies, in collaboration with Marco Sandri in Padova and Alfred Goldberg in Harvard, showed that FoxO transcription factors control the two main pathways of protein degradation in muscle cells, namely the ubiquitin-proteasome and authophagy- lysosome pathways. As with other aspects of Stefano Schiafiino's research, this fundamentally important result is also of major medical interest in the context of muscle wasting diseases.

The top ten publications of Stefano Schiaffino have 3649 citations and his most quoted experimental paper (1989) has 607 citations. In the last 20 years he has published 92 full papers with an h-index of 44, and total number of citations of 6360. His laboratory remains very productive.

In addition to his University teaching, Stefano Schiaffino has monitored many students and postdocs of different nationalities who have worked in his laboratory and now direct their own research groups in academic institutes or private companies. He has played a major role, with University colleagues, in establishing the Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine of which he is Vice-President, He also serves on different scientific advisory boards, including those of the Telethon Italia and Association Francaise contre les Myopathies (AFM).


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