About Dr. Cavalli


Dr. Cavalli’s work aims to understand the complex cascade of cellular events responsible for repairing damaged axons — the branches of nerve cells that carry signals to other nerve cells — and to identify therapeutic targets to improve neuronal recovery following axon injury.


Studying peripheral nerve cells, those outside the brain and spinal cord, Dr. Cavalli and her colleagues have identified several key molecular players and their roles in announcing injury, initiating a reponse and carrying out repair. Among them are mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR), JNK-interacting protein, JIP3 and the gene regulators HDAC5 and HIF-1alpha. Dr. Cavalli’s team is currently studying whether these cellular players can be used to restore sensory function after spinal cord or optic nerve injury.


Dr. Cavalli earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Geneva, Switzerland in 1991, 1992 and 2000, respectively. During her graduate work in the lab of Dr. Jean Gruenberg in the department of Biochemistry at the University of Geneva, Dr. Cavalli studied the signaling mechanisms regulating membrane trafficking in cells. She continued with postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. There she joined the lab of Dr. Larry Goldstein and studied how vesicular transport impacts signaling along peripheral nerves, and, vice versa, how signaling impacts vesicular transport, essential features for the establishment and maintenance of peripheral nerves. Indeed, peripheral sensory neurons and motor neurons possess axons that extend several centimeters in rodents and a meter or more in large mammals. In her initial studies, she focused on retrograde injury signaling, or how information about an injury is conveyed from the distantly located lesion site in the axon back to the cell body. She received a post-doctoral fellowship from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to continue her studies on injury signaling. This fellowship was influential in how Dr. Cavalli pursued her particular field: she was seized by the curiosity and motivation to solve the puzzle of nerve injury and repair. She then joined the Washington University faculty in 2006 as an Assistant Professor and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014, and Professor of Neuroscience in 2019.


Honors and Awards:

2001                                 Swiss National Science Foundation - post-doctoral research fellowship

2002                                 Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation - postdoctoral fellowship

2003                                 International Campaign for Cures of Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis,

                                         Outstanding Young Investigator Award 

2004                                 CMM Department Retreat 2004, UCSD

                                         Excellence Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Research

2005                                 Keystone Symposia Scholarship

2014                                 Distinguished Investigator Award, Washington University School of Medicine

2017                                 Visiting Faculty Program Fellowship, Weizmann Institute of Science

2019                                 Jack Griffin Plenary Lecture, Peripheral Nerve Society (PNS) Annual meeting

                                         Stein Innovation Award from Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation