Lalitha Madhavan

Lalitha Madhavan

Associate Professor, Neurology
Associate Professor, Medicine
Associate Professor, Neuroscience - GIDP
Associate Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biology
Associate Professor, Evelyn F Mcknight Brain Institute
Associate Professor, Clinical Translational Sciences
Associate Professor, Physiological Sciences - GIDP
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-2330

Research Interest

Dr. Madhavan M.D., PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Arizona. She is also a member of the Arizona Cancer Center and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, and is affiliated with the Neuroscience, Physiology and Molecular, Cellular Biology graduate programs at UA. Dr. Madhavan’s research centers on stem cells and neurological diseases. The ultimate goal of the work is to devise brain repair strategies for neural disorder using stem cells, and other alternate approaches. Currently, her lab is focused on Parkinson’s Disease, and is engaged in three main endeavors: (1) Understanding the therapeutic potential of stem cells in the context of aging, (2) Creating patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells to study the etiology of Parkinson’s Disease, and (3) Testing the therapeutic feasibility of various types of adult stem cells in preclinical Parkinson’s Disease models. These projects are united by a common goal, which is to investigate core problems hindering the development of effective stem cell-based therapies for Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, the work represents a novel path of research for not only Parkinson’s Disease therapy, but has broad implications for developing treatments for several other age-related neurodegenerative disorders. Visit the Madhavan Lab website to learn more.


Madhavan, L., Teves, J. M., Bhargava, V., Kirwan, K., Corenblum, M. J., Justiniano, R., Wondrak, G. T., Anandhan, A., Flores, A. J., Schipper, D. A., Khalpey, Z., Sligh, J. E., Curiel-Lewansdrowski, C., & Sherman, S. J. (2017). Parkinson’s disease skin fibroblasts display signature alterations in growth, redox homeostasis, mitochondrial function and autophagy. Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The discovery of biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease (PD) is challenging due to the heterogeneous nature of this disorder, and a poor correlation between the underlying pathology and the clinically expressed phenotype. An ideal biomarker would inform on PD-relevant pathological changes via an easily assayed biological characteristic, which reliably tracks clinical symptoms. Human dermal (skin) fibroblasts are accessible peripheral cells that constitute a patient-specific system, which potentially recapitulates the PD chronological and epigenetic aging history. Here, we compared primary skin fibroblasts obtained from individuals diagnosed with late-onset sporadic PD, and healthy age-matched controls. These fibroblasts were studied from fundamental viewpoints of growth and morphology, as well as redox, mitochondrial, and autophagic function. It was observed that fibroblasts from PD subjects had higher growth rates, and appeared distinctly different in terms of morphology and spatial organization in culture, compared to control cells. It was also found that the PD fibroblasts exhibited significantly compromised mitochondrial structure and function when assessed via morphological and oxidative phosphorylation assays. Additionally, a striking increase in baseline macroautophagy levels was seen in cells from PD subjects. Exposure of the skin fibroblasts to physiologically relevant stress, specifically ultraviolet irradiation (UVA), further exaggerated the autophagic dysfunction in the PD cells. Moreover, the PD fibroblasts accumulated higher levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) coupled with lower cell viability upon UVA treatment. In essence, these studies highlight primary skin fibroblasts as a patient-relevant model that captures fundamental PD molecular mechanisms, and supports their potential utility to develop diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for the disease.

Madhavan, L., Daley, B. F., Sortwell, C. E., & Collier, T. J. (2012). Endogenous neural precursors influence grafted neural stem cells and contribute to neuroprotection in the parkinsonian rat. The European journal of neuroscience, 35(6), 883-95.

Neuroprotective and neurorescue effects after neural stem/precursor cell (NPC) transplantation have been reported, but the mechanisms underlying such phenomena are not well understood. Our recent findings in a rat Parkinson's disease (PD) model indicate that transplantation of NPCs before a 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) insult can result in nigrostriatal protection which is associated with endogenous NPC proliferation, migration and neurogenesis. Here, we sought to determine whether the observed endogenous NPC response (i) contributes to transplanted NPC-mediated neuroprotection; and/or (ii) affects graft phenotype and function. Host Fischer 344 rats were administered the antimitotic agent cytosine-β-d-arabinofuranoside (Ara-C) to eliminate actively proliferating endogenous neural precursors before being transplanted with NPCs and treated with 6-OHDA to induce nigrostriatal degeneration. Behavioral and histological analyses demonstrate that the neuroprotective response observed in NPC transplanted animals which had not received Ara-C was significantly attenuated in animals which did receive pre-transplant Ara-C. Also, while grafts in Ara-C-treated animals showed no decrease in cell number, they exhibited significantly reduced expression of the neural stem cell regulators nestin and sonic hedgehog. In addition, inhibition of the endogenous NPC response resulted in an exaggerated host glial reaction. Overall, the study establishes for the first time that endogenous NPCs contribute to transplanted NPC-mediated therapeutic effects by affecting both grafted and mature host cells in unique ways. Thus, both endogenous and transplanted NPCs are important in creating an environment suitable for neural protection and rescue, and harnessing their synergistic interaction may lead to the optimization of cell-based therapies for PD.

Madhavan, L., Daley, B. F., Paumier, K. L., & Collier, T. J. (2009). Transplantation of subventricular zone neural precursors induces an endogenous precursor cell response in a rat model of Parkinson's disease. The Journal of comparative neurology, 515(1), 102-15.

Realistically, future stem cell therapies for neurological conditions including Parkinson's disease (PD) will most probably entail combination treatment strategies, involving both the stimulation of endogenous cells and transplantation. Therefore, this study investigates these two modes of neural precursor cell (NPC) therapy in concert in order to determine their interrelationships in a rat PD model. Human placental alkaline phosphatase (hPAP)-labeled NPCs were transplanted unilaterally into host rats which were subsequently infused ipsilaterally with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA). The reaction of host NPCs to the transplantation and 6-OHDA was tracked by bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling. Two weeks after transplantation, in animals transplanted with NPCs we found evidence of elevated host subventricular zone NPC proliferation, neurogenesis, and migration to the graft site. In these animals, we also observed a significant preservation of striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expression and substantia nigra TH cell number. We have seen no evidence that neuroprotection is a product of dopamine neuron replacement by NPC-derived cells. Rather, the NPCs expressed glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), sonic hedgehog (Shh), and stromal cell-derived factor 1 alpha (SDF1alpha), providing a molecular basis for the observed neuroprotection and endogenous NPC response to transplantation. In summary, our data suggests plausible synergy between exogenous and endogenous NPC actions, and that NPC implantation before the 6-OHDA insult can create a host microenvironment conducive to stimulation of endogenous NPCs and protection of mature nigral neurons.

Corenblum, M. J., Flores, A. J., Badowski, M., Harris, D. T., & Madhavan, L. (2015). Systemic human CD34(+) cells populate the brain and activate host mechanisms to counteract nigrostriatal degeneration. Regenerative medicine, 10(5), 563-77.

Here we investigated the neuroprotective potential of systemic CD34(+) human cord blood cells (hCBCs) in a 6-hydroxydopamine rat model of Parkinson's disease.

Madhavan, L., Ourednik, V., & Ourednik, J. (2006). Increased "vigilance" of antioxidant mechanisms in neural stem cells potentiates their capability to resist oxidative stress. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio), 24(9), 2110-9.

Although the potential value of transplanted and endogenous neural stem cells (NSCs) for the treatment of the impaired central nervous system (CNS) has widely been accepted, almost nothing is known about their sensitivity to the hostile microenvironment in comparison to surrounding, more mature cell populations. Since many neuropathological insults are accompanied by oxidative stress, this report compared the alertness of antioxidant defense mechanisms and cell survival in NSCs and postmitotic neural cells (PNCs). Both primary and immortalized cells were analyzed. At steady state, NSCs distinguished themselves in their basal mitochondrial metabolism from PNCs by their lower reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels and higher expression of the key antioxidant enzymes uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx). Following exposure to the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropionic acid, PNC cultures were marked by rapidly decreasing mitochondrial activity and increasing ROS content, both entailing complete cell loss. NSCs, in contrast, reacted by fast upregulation of UCP2, GPx, and superoxide dismutase 2 and successfully recovered from an initial deterioration. This recovery could be abolished by specific antioxidant inhibition. Similar differences between NSCs and PNCs regarding redox control efficiency were detected in both primary and immortalized cells. Our first in vivo data from the subventricular stem cell niche of the adult mouse forebrain corroborated the above observations and revealed strong baseline expression of UCP2 and GPx in the resident, proliferating NSCs. Thus, an increased "vigilance" of antioxidant mechanisms might represent an innate characteristic of NSCs, which not only defines their cell fate, but also helps them to encounter oxidative stress in diseased CNS.