Delia Picone

Professor of General and Inorganic Chemistry

Name Delia
Surname Picone
Institution University of Naples – Federico II
Address Department of Chemical Sciences, University of Naples Federico II, Complesso Universitario di Monte Sant'Angelo, Via Cintia, I-80126 Napoli, Italy
Delia Picone


  • Double domain swapping in bovine seminal RNase: formation of distinct N- and C-swapped tetramers and multimers with increasing biological activities.

    Publication Date: 01/01/2012 on PloS one
    by Gotte G, Mahmoud Helmy A, Ercole C, Spadaccini R, Laurents DV, Donadelli M, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046804

    Bovine seminal (BS) RNase, the unique natively dimeric member of the RNase super-family, represents a special case not only for its additional biological actions but also for the singular features of 3D domain swapping. The native enzyme is indeed a mixture of two isoforms: M = M, a dimer held together by two inter-subunit disulfide bonds, and MxM, 70% of the total, which, besides the two mentioned disulfides, is additionally stabilized by the swapping of its N-termini.When lyophilized from 40% acetic acid, BS-RNase oligomerizes as the super-family proto-type RNase A does. In this paper, we induced BS-RNase self-association and analyzed the multimers by size-exclusion chromatography, cross-linking, electrophoresis, mutagenesis, dynamic light scattering, molecular modelling. Finally, we evaluated their enzymatic and cytotoxic activities.Several BS-RNase domain-swapped oligomers were detected, including two tetramers, one exchanging only the N-termini, the other being either N- or C-swapped. The C-swapping event, confirmed by results on a BS-K113N mutant, has been firstly seen in BS-RNase here, and probably stabilizes also multimers larger than tetramers.Interestingly, all BS-RNase oligomers are more enzymatically active than the native dimer and, above all, they display a cytotoxic activity that definitely increases with the molecular weight of the multimers. This latter feature, to date unknown for BS-RNase, suggests again that the self-association of RNases strongly modulates their biological and potentially therapeutic properties.

  • NMR studies on structure and dynamics of the monomeric derivative of BS-RNase: new insights for 3D domain swapping.

    Publication Date: 01/01/2012 on PloS one
    by Spadaccini R, Ercole C, Gentile MA, Sanfelice D, Boelens R, Wechselberger R, Batta G, Bernini A, Niccolai N, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029076

    Three-dimensional domain swapping is a common phenomenon in pancreatic-like ribonucleases. In the aggregated state, these proteins acquire new biological functions, including selective cytotoxicity against tumour cells. RNase A is able to dislocate both N- and C-termini, but usually this process requires denaturing conditions. In contrast, bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase), which is a homo-dimeric protein sharing 80% of sequence identity with RNase A, occurs natively as a mixture of swapped and unswapped isoforms. The presence of two disulfides bridging the subunits, indeed, ensures a dimeric structure also to the unswapped molecule. In vitro, the two BS-RNase isoforms interconvert under physiological conditions. Since the tendency to swap is often related to the instability of the monomeric proteins, in these paper we have analysed in detail the stability in solution of the monomeric derivative of BS-RNase (mBS) by a combination of NMR studies and Molecular Dynamics Simulations. The refinement of NMR structure and relaxation data indicate a close similarity with RNase A, without any evidence of aggregation or partial opening. The high compactness of mBS structure is confirmed also by H/D exchange, urea denaturation, and TEMPOL mapping of the protein surface. The present extensive structural and dynamic investigation of (monomeric) mBS did not show any experimental evidence that could explain the known differences in swapping between BS-RNase and RNase A. Hence, we conclude that the swapping in BS-RNase must be influenced by the distinct features of the dimers, suggesting a prominent role for the interchain disulfide bridges.

  • Enforcing the positive charge of N-termini enhances membrane interaction and antitumor activity of bovine seminal ribonuclease.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2011 on Biochimica et biophysica acta
    by D'Errico G, Ercole C, Lista M, Pizzo E, Falanga A, Galdiero S, Spadaccini R, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2011.08.009

    Binding to cell membrane, followed by translocation into the cytosol and RNA degradation, is a necessary requirement to convert a ribonuclease into a cytotoxin for malignant tumor cells. In this paper, we investigate the membrane binding attitude of bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase) and its variant G38K-BS-RNase, bearing an enforced cluster of positive charges at the N-termini surface. By using a combination of biophysical techniques, including CD, SPR and ESR, we find for the two proteins a common, two-step mechanism of interaction with synthetic liposomes, an initial binding to the bilayer surface, driven by electrostatic interactions, followed by a shallow penetration in the lipid core. Protein binding effectively perturbs lipid packing and dynamics. Remarkably, the higher G38K-BS-RNase membrane interacting capability well correlates with its increased cytotoxicity for tumor cells. Overall, these studies shed light on the mechanism of membrane binding and perturbation, proving definitely the importance of electrostatic interactions in the cytotoxic activity of BS-RNase, and provide a rational basis to design proteins with anticancer potential.

  • Structure-cytotoxicity relationships in bovine seminal ribonuclease: new insights from heat and chemical denaturation studies on variants.

    Publication Date: 01/01/2011 on The FEBS journal
    by Giancola C, Ercole C, Fotticchia I, Spadaccini R, Pizzo E, D'Alessio G, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2010.07937.x

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase), a homodimeric protein displaying selective cytotoxicity towards tumor cells, is isolated as a mixture of two isoforms, a dimeric form in which the chains swap their N-termini, and an unswapped dimer. In the cytosolic reducing environment, the dimeric form in which the chains swap their N-termini is converted into a noncovalent dimer (termed NCD), in which the monomers remain intertwined through their N-terminal ends. The quaternary structure renders the reduced protein resistant to the ribonuclease inhibitor, a protein that binds most ribonucleases with very high affinity. On the other hand, upon selective reduction, the unswapped dimer is converted in two monomers, which are readily bound and inactivated by the ribonuclease inhibitor. On the basis of these considerations, it has been proposed that the cytotoxic activity of BS-RNase relies on the 3D structure and stability of its NCD derivative. Here, we report a comparison of the thermodynamic and chemical stability of the NCD form of BS-RNase with that of the monomeric derivative, together with an investigation of the thermal dissociation mechanism revealing the presence of a dimeric intermediate. In addition, we report that the replacement of of Arg80 by Ser significantly decreases the cytotoxic activity of BS-RNase and the stability of the NCD form with respect to the parent protein, but does not affect the ribonucleolytic activity or the dissociation mechanism. The data show the importance of Arg80 for the cytotoxicity of BS-RNase, and also support the hypothesis that the reduced derivative of BS-RNase is responsible for its cytotoxic activity.

  • Physico-chemical features of the environment affect the protein conformation and the immunoglobulin E reactivity of kiwellin (Act d 5).

    Publication Date: 01/12/2010 on Clinical and experimental allergy : journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology
    by Bernardi ML, Picone D, Tuppo L, Giangrieco I, Petrella G, Palazzo P, Ferrara R, Tamburrini M, Mari A, Ciardiello MA
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03603.x

    Allergy diagnostic systems sometimes give false positive or negative results. In this respect, the influence of protein conformational changes on the allergen-IgE interaction sites is worthy to be investigated.

  • Structural characterization of the transmembrane proximal region of the hepatitis C virus E1 glycoprotein.

    Publication Date: 01/03/2010 on Biochimica et biophysica acta
    by Spadaccini R, D'Errico G, D'Alessio V, Notomista E, Bianchi A, Merola M, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2009.10.018

    A detailed knowledge of the mechanism of virus entry represents one of the most promising approaches to develop new therapeutic strategies. However, viral fusion is a very complex process involving fusion glycoproteins present on the viral envelope. In the two hepatitis C virus envelope proteins, E1 and E2, several membranotropic regions with a potential role in the fusion process have been identified. Among these, we have selected the 314-342 E1 region. Circular Dichroism data indicate that the peptide exhibits a clear propensity to adopt a helical folding in different membrane mimicking media, such as mixtures of water with fluorinated alcohols and phospholipids, with a slight preference for negative charged bilayers. The 3D structure of E1(314-342) peptide, calculated by 2D-NMR in a low-polarity environment, consists of two helical stretches encompassing residues 319-323 and 329-338 respectively. The peptide, presenting a largely apolar character, interacts with liposomes, as indicated by fluorescence and electron spin resonance spectra. The strength of the interaction and the deepness of peptide insertion in the phospholipid membrane are modulated by the bilayer composition, the interaction with anionic phospholipids being among the strongest ever observed. The presence of cholesterol also affects the peptide-bilayer interaction, favoring the peptide positioning close to the bilayer surface. Overall, the experimental data support the idea that this region of E1 might be involved in membrane destabilization and viral fusion; therefore it may represent a good target to develop anti-viral molecules.

  • Toward an antitumor form of bovine pancreatic ribonuclease: the crystal structure of three noncovalent dimeric mutants.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2009 on Biopolymers
    by Merlino A, Russo Krauss I, Perillo M, Mattia CA, Ercole C, Picone D, Vergara A, Sica F
    DOI: 10.1002/bip.21183

    The cytotoxic action of bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase) depends on its noncovalent swapped dimeric form (NCD-BS), which presents a compact structure that allows the molecule to escape ribonuclease inhibitor (RI). A key role in the acquisition of this structure has been attributed to the concomitant presence of a proline in position 19 and a leucine in position 28. The introduction of Leu28, Cys31, and Cys32 and, in addition, of Pro19 in the sequence of bovine pancreatic ribonuclease (RNase A) has produced two dimeric variants LCC and PLCC, which do exhibit a cytotoxic activity, though at a much lower level than BS-RNase. The crystal structure analysis of the noncovalent swapped form (NCD) of LCC and PLCC, complexed with the substrate analogue 2 '-deoxycytidylyl(3 ',5 ')-2 '-deoxyguanosine, has revealed that, differently from NCD-BS, the dimers adopt an opened quaternary structure, with the two Leu residues fully exposed to the solvent, that does not hinder the binding of RI. Similar results have been obtained for a third mutant of the pancreatic enzyme, engineered with the hinge peptide sequence of the seminal enzyme (residues 16-22) and the two cysteines in position 31 and 32, but lacking the hydrophobic Leu residue in position 28. The comparison of these three structures with those previously reported for other ribonuclease swapped dimers strongly suggests that, in addition to Pro19 and Leu28, the presence of a glycine at the N-terminal end of the hinge peptide is also important to push the swapped form of RNase A dimer into the compact quaternary organization observed for NCD-BS.

  • Comparison of the structural and functional properties of RNase A and BS-RNase: a stepwise mutagenesis approach.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2009 on Biopolymers
    by Ercole C, Colamarino RA, Pizzo E, Fogolari F, Spadaccini R, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1002/bip.21176

    The original structure of bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase), solved in 1993, represents a milestone in the story of protein structure, because it represented the first X-ray structure showing two polypeptide chains entangled through their terminal regions. It is generally assumed that this structural feature is the basis of several special biological activities, including a potent antitumor activity, but this has not been yet definitely proved. To assess this hypothesis, in this article we have analyzed the effects of the N-terminal hinge region and/or of Arg80 on the swapping propensity and cytotoxicity in newly designed proteins, using a covalent dimeric variant of bovine pancreatic ribonuclease (RNase A) as scaffold. All the proteins have a very poor cytotoxic activity, independently on the swapping propensity, that can even reach the same value of native BS-RNase. Overall our data suggest that the swapping represents still an essential requisite for the cytotoxic activity, because it keeps the dimeric structure stable even in the reducing cytosolic environment, but other features are essential to design dimeric antitumor ribonucleases, including a strong positive potential at the N-terminal face and a quaternary structure able to evade the cytosolic ribonuclease inhibitor, with or without the interchain disulfide bridges.

  • Kissper, a kiwi fruit peptide with channel-like activity: structural and functional features.

    Publication Date: 01/06/2008 on Journal of peptide science : an official publication of the European Peptide Society
    by Ciardiello MA, Meleleo D, Saviano G, Crescenzo R, Carratore V, Camardella L, Gallucci E, Micelli S, Tancredi T, Picone D, Tamburrini M
    DOI: 10.1002/psc.992

    Kissper is a 39-residue peptide isolated from kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa). Its primary structure, elucidated by direct protein sequencing, is identical to the N-terminal region of kiwellin, a recently reported kiwi fruit allergenic protein, suggesting that kissper derives from the in vivo processing of kiwellin. The peptide does not show high sequence identity with any other polypeptide of known function. However, it displays a pattern of cysteines similar, but not identical, to those observed in some plant and animal proteins, including toxins involved in defence mechanisms. A number of these proteins are also active on mammalian cells. Functional characterization of kissper showed pH-dependent and voltage-gated pore-forming activity, together with anion selectivity and channeling in model synthetic PLMs, made up of POPC and of DOPS:DOPE:POPC. A 2DNMR analysis indicates that in aqueous solution kissper has only short regions of regular secondary structure, without any evident similarity with other bioactive peptides. Comparative analysis of the structural and functional features suggests that kissper is a member of a new class of pore-forming peptides with potential effects on human health.

  • The buried diversity of bovine seminal ribonuclease: shape and cytotoxicity of the swapped non-covalent form of the enzyme.

    Publication Date: 15/02/2008 on Journal of molecular biology
    by Merlino A, Ercole C, Picone D, Pizzo E, Mazzarella L, Sica F
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2007.11.008

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease exists in the native state as an equilibrium mixture of a swapped and an unswapped dimer. The molecular envelope and the exposed surface of the two isomers are practically indistinguishable and their diversity is almost completely buried in the interior of the protein. Surprisingly, the cytotoxic and antitumor activity of the enzyme is a peculiar property of the swapped dimer. This buried diversity comes into light in the reducing environment of the cytosol, where the unswapped dimer dissociates into monomers, whereas the swapped one generates a metastable dimeric form (NCD-BS) with a quaternary assembly that allows the molecule to escape the protein inhibitor of ribonucleases. The stability of this quaternary shape was mainly attributed to the combined presence of Pro19 and Leu28. We have prepared and fully characterized by X-ray diffraction the double mutant P19A/L28Q (PALQ) of the seminal enzyme. While the swapped and unswapped forms of the mutant have structures very similar to that of the corresponding wild-type forms, the non-covalent form (NCD-PALQ) adopts an opened quaternary structure, different from that of NCD-BS. Moreover, model building clearly indicates that NCD-PALQ can be easily sequestered by the protein inhibitor. In agreement with these results, cytotoxic assays have revealed that PALQ has limited activity, whereas the single mutants P19A and L28Q display cytotoxic activity against malignant cells almost as large as the wild-type enzyme. The significant increase in the antitumor activity, brought about by the substitution of just two residues in going from the double mutant to the wild-type enzyme, suggests a new strategy to improve this important biological property by strengthening the interface that stabilizes the quaternary structure of NCD-BS.