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Marco Bortolato

Marco Bortolato, MD, PhD

Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology

Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology


Office: 3916 L.S. Skaggs Research Building


  • M.D. University of Cagliari, Italy
  • Ph.D. Pharmacology, University of Cagliari, Italy
  • Specialization in Neurology University of Cagliari, Italy

Research Interests

My research is primarily focused on the characterization of the biological bases of neurodevelopmental disorders through the employment of behavioral tests in animal models. In particular, my key scientific interest is the identification of the mechanisms of interaction between lipid mediators (including neuroactive steroids and endocannabinoids) and key brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. To this end, we employ a broad array of behavioral, biochemical and molecular biological techniques, as well as stereotactic surgery and HPLC.

The long-term goal of this research is the development of novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of pathological aggression, autism-spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia and impulse-control disorders (such as pathological gambling).

My laboratory is currently involved in two major translational research projects. The first target of our investigations is the characterization of the molecular substrates of gene x environment interactions in impulsive aggression. The second aim of our research is the development of novel steroid- and cannabinoid-based tools for the therapy of impulse-control disorders, Tourette syndrome, autism and schizophrenia. Both projects involve multiple collaborations with several basic and clinical scientists in US, Canada, Italy, France and Germany.

Marco Bortolato Lab - Graduate Students

Easton Van Luik, a pharmacology and toxicology graduate student wearing a black shirt

Easton Van Luik

Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD Program

Research Interests: As a graduate student in the Bortolato lab, my research centers on investigating frontostriatal dysfunction using a wide range of behavioral and molecular techniques. Our primary focus is to explore the role of key neurolipids, receptors, and neurotransmitters associated with neurodevelopmental disorders like Tourette syndrome, pathological aggression, and impulse-control disorders. Through this research, we aim to unravel the underlying mechanisms involved, ultimately contributing to the development of therapeutic treatments for individuals affected by these disorders.

Undergraduate School: Utah Valley University (BS Behavioral Science) 


Marco Bortolato Lab - Postdoctoral Researchers

Marco Orru, PhD

I’m a behavioral pharmacologist and I have obtained my Ph.D. in Pharmacology in 2007 from the University of Cagliari, Italy.

During my over 10 years of scientific experience in the US, I focused my research on the characterization of the biological bases of neurodevelopmental disorders through the employment of behavioral tests in animal models, and on the characterization of biochemical and molecular mechanisms of psychoactive drugs acting at the level of the basal ganglia. I did my first postdoctoral at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/IRP) working on the mechanisms of action of addictive drugs acting at the level of the basal ganglia. I have been mainly involved in projects examining functional and pharmacological significance of receptor heteromers, particularly the adenosine A2A receptor forming heteromers with the adenosine A1 receptor and D2 receptor, in animal models of drug abuse with different in vivo approaches.

My first experience at the Bortolato lab was in 2016 when I worked on a project for the identification of biomarkers and therapeutical targets for the prevention and treatment of pramipexole-increased risk-taking behaviors in a rodent animal model of gambling. From years 2020 to 2022 I combined research and teaching activities at PNU (Precarpathian National University) in Ukraine where I focused my research on the characterization of biochemical and molecular mechanisms of phytobiotic compounds on neurodevelopmental disorders in animal models of aging.

My current projects at the Bortolato’s lab are to examine the functional and pharmacological significance of neurosteroids using a 6-Hydroxy Dopamine (6-OHDA) animal model of neurotoxicity in animal models of Parkinson’s disease and to study the effects produced by brain-selective knock-down molecular constructs (KD) using viral approaches. The goal of this research is to clarify the role played by neurosteroids in the modulation of behavioral responses in animal models of PD.

Post-Doc: Bortolato Lab

Office:  28 Skaggs




Giulia Braccagni, PhD

I recently graduated from a Ph.D. program at the University of Siena, Department of Molecular Medicine, where I primarily work on predictive factors of vulnerability and resilience in major depression. I previously completed my bachelor’s degree in 2017 studying novel targets for anti-angiogenic drugs. I achieved my M.S. in Health Biology in 2019. During my MS program, I worked on the neurobiology of autism spectrum disorder and examined the potential function of fenofibrate as a new possible therapeutic agent. I also had the opportunity to investigate the role of sleep deprivation in psychiatric disorders and its effects on modulating neuronal excitability. I am currently a Post Doc in the Bortolato lab where I principally research pathological aggression and the development of novel therapeutic agents for its treatment.

University of Siena, MS Health Biology, PhD Pharmacology

Post-Doc: Bortolato Lab

Phone: 801-587-3352

Office: 25/26 L. S Skaggs Sr. Hall