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


  • A new mutant of bovine seminal ribonuclease with a reversed swapping propensity.

    Publication Date: 27/02/2007 on Biochemistry
    by Ercole C, Spadaccini R, Alfano C, Tancredi T, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1021/bi0613630

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase) is made up of two identical subunits bridged through two disulfide bonds. In solution, it exists as a 2:1 equilibrium mixture between two forms, with (MxM) and without swapping (M=M) of the N-terminal arms. The swapping endows BS-RNase with some special biological functions, including antitumor activity, since MxM retains a dimeric structure even under reducing conditions, thus evading the cytosolic ribonuclease inhibitor. To investigate the structural basis of domain swapping in BS-RNase, we have obtained several mutants by replacing selected residues with the corresponding ones of its monomeric counterpart, bovine pancreatic ribonuclease (RNase A). We have already shown that, in contrast with all other cases of swapped proteins, the swapping propensity of BS-RNase does not depend on the specific sequence of the 16-22 hinge loop, which connects the main body to the dislocating arm. In this paper we report the design, the expression, and the structural characterization of two mutants obtained by replacing Arg80 with Ser either in BS-RNase or in the mutant already containing the 16-22 hinge sequence of RNase A. NMR and circular dichroism data indicate that, in the monomeric form of the latter mutant, Ser80 acts as a switch for the conformation of the hinge region. Accordingly, in the dimeric form of the same mutant the MxM:M=M equilibrium ratio is inverted to 1:2. Overall, these data suggest that the presence of Arg80 triggers the swapping of N-terminal ends and plays a relevant role in the stability of the swapped form of BS-RNase.

  • Solution structure of a chemosensory protein from the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria.

    Publication Date: 05/09/2006 on Biochemistry
    by Tomaselli S, Crescenzi O, Sanfelice D, Ab E, Wechselberger R, Angeli S, Scaloni A, Boelens R, Tancredi T, Pelosi P, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1021/bi060998w

    Chemical stimuli, generally constituted by small volatile organic molecules, are extremely important for the survival of different insect species. In the course of evolution, insects have developed very sophisticated biochemical systems for the binding and the delivery of specific semiochemicals to their cognate membrane-bound receptors. Chemosensory proteins (CSPs) are a class of small soluble proteins present at high concentration in insect chemosensory organs; they are supposed to be involved in carrying the chemical messages from the environment to the chemosensory receptors. In this paper, we report on the solution structure of CSPsg4, a chemosensory protein from the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria, which is expressed in the antennae and other chemosensory organs. The 3D NMR structure revealed an overall fold consisting of six alpha-helices, spanning residues 13-18, 20-31, 40-54, 62-78, 80-90, and 97-103, connected by loops which in some cases show dihedral angles typical of beta-turns. As in the only other chemosensory protein whose structure has been solved so far, namely, CSP from the moth Mamestra brassicae, four helices are arranged to form a V-shaped motif; another helix runs across the two V's, and the last one is packed against the external face. Analysis of the tertiary structure evidenced multiple hydrophobic cavities which could be involved in ligand binding. In fact, incubation of the protein with a natural ligand, namely, oleamide, produced substantial changes to the NMR spectra, suggesting extensive conformational transitions upon ligand binding.

  • The importance of electrostatic potential in the interaction of sweet proteins with the sweet taste receptor.

    Publication Date: 07/07/2006 on Journal of molecular biology
    by Esposito V, Gallucci R, Picone D, Saviano G, Tancredi T, Temussi PA
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2006.05.020

    In addition to many small molecular mass sweeteners there are in nature a few sweet proteins. The molecular volume of sweet proteins is so different from that of common sweeteners that it was difficult to understand how molecules as large as proteins can activate a receptor designed to host small molecules. We have recently shown that sweet proteins can activate the sweet receptor by a mechanism of interaction, called ''wedge model", in which proteins fit a large cavity of the receptor with wedge-shaped surfaces of their structures. In order to substantiate this model we have designed, expressed and characterized seven mutants of MNEI, a single chain monellin. Three uncharged residues of the interaction surface, Met42, Tyr63 and Tyr65, were changed either into acidic or basic residues whereas Asp68, a key acidic residue, was changed into a basic one. As a general trend, we observe that an increase of the negative charge is much more detrimental for sweetness than an increase of positive charge. In addition we show that by a careful choice of a residue at the center of the interface between MNEI and receptor, it is possible even to increase the sweetness of MNEI. These results are fully consistent with the wedge model.

  • The alpha-to-beta conformational transition of Alzheimer's Abeta-(1-42) peptide in aqueous media is reversible: a step by step conformational analysis suggests the location of beta conformation seeding.

    Publication Date: 01/02/2006 on Chembiochem : a European journal of chemical biology
    by Tomaselli S, Esposito V, Vangone P, van Nuland NA, Bonvin AM, Guerrini R, Tancredi T, Temussi PA, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1002/cbic.200500223

    Current views of the role of beta-amyloid (Abeta) peptide fibrils range from regarding them as the cause of Alzheimer's pathology to having a protective function. In the last few years, it has also been suggested that soluble oligomers might be the most important toxic species. In all cases, the study of the conformational properties of Abeta peptides in soluble form constitutes a basic approach to the design of molecules with "antiamyloid" activity. We have experimentally investigated the conformational path that can lead the Abeta-(1-42) peptide from the native state, which is represented by an alpha helix embedded in the membrane, to the final state in the amyloid fibrils, which is characterized by beta-sheet structures. The conformational steps were monitored by using CD and NMR spectroscopy in media of varying polarities. This was achieved by changing the composition of water and hexafluoroisopropanol (HFIP). In the presence of HFIP, beta conformations can be observed in solutions that have very high water content (up to 99 % water; v/v). These can be turned back to alpha helices simply by adding the appropriate amount of HFIP. The transition of Abeta-(1-42) from alpha to beta conformations occurs when the amount of water is higher than 80 % (v/v). The NMR structure solved in HFIP/H2O with high water content showed that, on going from very apolar to polar environments, the long N-terminal helix is essentially retained, whereas the shorter C-terminal helix is lost. The complete conformational path was investigated in detail with the aid of molecular-dynamics simulations in explicit solvent, which led to the localization of residues that might seed beta conformations. The structures obtained might help to find regions that are more affected by environmental conditions in vivo. This could in turn aid the design of molecules able to inhibit fibril deposition or revert oligomerization processes.

  • The role of the hinge loop in domain swapping. The special case of bovine seminal ribonuclease.

    Publication Date: 08/04/2005 on The Journal of biological chemistry
    by Picone D, Di Fiore A, Ercole C, Franzese M, Sica F, Tomaselli S, Mazzarella L
    DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M413157200

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase) is a covalent homodimeric enzyme homologous to pancreatic ribonuclease (RNase A), endowed with a number of special biological functions. It is isolated as an equilibrium mixture of swapped (MxM) and unswapped (M=M) dimers. The interchanged N termini are hinged on the main bodies through the peptide 16-22, which changes conformation in the two isomers. At variance with other proteins, domain swapping in BS-RNase involves two dimers having a similar and highly constrained quaternary association, mainly dictated by two interchain disulfide bonds. This provides the opportunity to study the intrinsic ability to swap as a function of the hinge sequence, without additional effects arising from dissociation or quaternary structure modifications. Two variants, having Pro19 or the whole sequence of the hinge replaced by the corresponding residues of RNase A, show equilibrium and kinetic parameters of the swapping similar to those of the parent protein. In comparison, the x-ray structures of MxM indicate, within a substantial constancy of the quaternary association, a greater mobility of the hinge residues. The relative insensitivity of the swapping tendency to the substitutions in the hinge region, and in particular to the replacement of Pro19 by Ala, contrasts with the results obtained for other swapped proteins and can be rationalized in terms of the unique features of the seminal enzyme. Moreover, the results indirectly lend credit to the hypothesis that the major role of Pro19 resides in directing the assembly of the non-covalent dimer, the species produced by selective reduction of the interchain disulfides and considered responsible for the special biological functions of BS-RNase.

  • Role of the hinge peptide and the intersubunit interface in the swapping of N-termini in dimeric bovine seminal RNase.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2003 on European journal of biochemistry
    by Ercole C, Avitabile F, Del Vecchio P, Crescenzi O, Tancredi T, Picone D

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase) is the only known dimeric enzyme characterized by an equilibrium between two different 3D structures: MxM, with exchange (or swapping) of the N-terminal 1-20 residues, and M=M, without exchange. As a consequence, the hinge region 16-22 has a different tertiary structure in the two forms. In the native protein, the equilibrium ratio between MxM and M=M is about 7 : 3. Kinetic analysis of the swapping process for a recombinant sample shows that it folds mainly in the M=M form, then undergoes interconversion into the MxM form, reaching the same 7 : 3 equilibrium ratio. To investigate the role of the regions that are most affected structurally by the swapping, we expressed variant proteins by replacing two crucial residues with the corresponding ones from RNase A: Pro19, within the hinge peptide, and Leu28, located at the interface between subunits. We compared the structural properties of the monomeric forms of P19A-BS-RNase, L28Q-BS-RNase and P19A/L28Q-BS-RNase variants with those of the parent protein, and investigated the exchange kinetics of the corresponding dimers. The P19A mutation slightly increases the thermal stability of the monomer, but it does not alter the swapping tendency of the dimer. In contrast, the L28Q mutation significantly affects both the dimerization and swapping processes but not the thermal stability of the monomer. Overall, these results suggest that the structural determinants that control the exchange of N-terminal arms in BS-RNase may not be located within the hinge peptide, and point to a crucial role of the interface residues.

  • The swapping of terminal arms in ribonucleases: comparison of the solution structure of monomeric bovine seminal and pancreatic ribonucleases.

    Publication Date: 29/07/2003 on Biochemistry
    by Avitabile F, Alfano C, Spadaccini R, Crescenzi O, D'Ursi AM, D'Alessio G, Tancredi T, Picone D
    DOI: 10.1021/bi0342517

    Bovine seminal ribonuclease (BS-RNase), the only dimeric protein among the pancreatic-like ribonucleases, is endowed with special structural features and with biological functions beyond enzymatic activity. In solution, the protein exists as an equilibrium mixture of two forms, with or without exchange (or swapping) of the N-terminal arms. After selective reduction and alkylation of the two intrachain disulfide bridges, the dimeric protein can be transformed into a monomeric derivative that has a ribonuclease activity higher than that of the parent dimeric protein but is devoid of the special biological functions. A detailed investigation of the structural features of this protein in solution, in comparison with those of other monomeric ribonucleases, may help unveil the structural details which induce swapping of the N-terminal arms of BS-RNase. The solution structure of the recombinant monomeric form of BS-RNase, as determined by 3D heteronuclear NMR, shows close similarity with that of bovine pancreatic ribonuclease (RNase A) in all regions characterized by regular elements of secondary structure. However, significant differences are present in the flexible regions, which could account for the different behavior of the two proteins. To characterize in detail these regions, we have measured H/D exchange rate constants, temperature coefficients and heteronuclear NOEs of backbone amides for both RNase A and monomeric BS-RNase. The results indicate a large difference in the backbone flexibility of the hinge peptide segment 16-22 of the two proteins, which could provide the molecular basis to explain the ability of BS-RNase subunits to swap their N-terminal arms.

  • The mechanism of interaction of sweet proteins with the T1R2-T1R3 receptor: evidence from the solution structure of G16A-MNEI.

    Publication Date: 02/05/2003 on Journal of molecular biology
    by Spadaccini R, Trabucco F, Saviano G, Picone D, Crescenzi O, Tancredi T, Temussi PA

    The mechanism by which sweet proteins elicit a response on the T1R2-T1R3 sweet taste receptor is still mostly unknown but has been so far related to the presence of "sweet fingers" on the protein surface able to interact with the same mechanism as that of low molecular mass sweeteners. In the search for the identification of sweet fingers, we have solved the solution structure of G16A MNEI, a structural mutant that shows a reduction of one order of magnitude in sweetness with respect to its parent protein, MNEI, a single-chain monellin. Comparison of the structures of wild-type monellin and its G16A mutant shows that the mutation does not affect the structure of potential glucophores but produces a distortion of the surface owing to the partial relative displacement of elements of secondary structure. These results show conclusively that sweet proteins do not possess a sweet finger and strongly support the hypothesis that the mechanism of interaction of sweet-tasting proteins with the recently identified T1R2-T1R3 GPC receptor is different from that of low molecular mass sweeteners.

  • Structural studies on Hgr3 orphan receptor ligand prolactin-releasing peptide.

    Publication Date: 05/12/2002 on Journal of medicinal chemistry
    by D'Ursi AM, Albrizio S, Di Fenza A, Crescenzi O, Carotenuto A, Picone D, Novellino E, Rovero P

    Prolactin-releasing peptides (PrRPs) are two novel bioactive peptides of 20 and 31 residues, dubbed respectively PrRP20 and PrRP31, isolated from bovine hypothalamic tissues as ligands of the orphan seven-transmembrane domain receptor Hgr3. The first biological activity identified for these peptides was the release of prolactin. Recent data on biological activities of PrRPs as well as on the localization of their receptors in numerous central nervous system sites suggested new potential actions of PrRPs in the regulation of the central nervous system and the possibility of identifying an alternative central role for these peptides. We describe here the synthesis and the structural characterization of the peptide PrRP20 by CD and NMR spectroscopies. A 3D model was built on the basis of the NMR data collected in a water/sodium dodecyl sulfate mixture. This system provides an amphipatic medium able to mimic the cell membrane. The main structural feature of the PrRP20 is an alpha-helical secondary structure spanning the 10 C-terminal residues. The conformational properties of PrRP20 are discussed in considering the sequence similarity observed between the Hgr3 and the neuropeptide Y (NPY) receptors. This similarity, together with the data showing a number of biological activities common to PrRP and NPY peptides, leads us to formulate the hypothesis that similar structural elements could exist in the ligands as well. In fact, PrRP20 and NPY are well aligned in the C-terminal portion, where they share an amphipatic alpha-helical secondary structure. Interestingly, the homology between the two sequences involves residues crucial for NPY biological activity. The conformational characterization of PrRP20 and the comparison with NPY are a valuable starting point for the rational design of subsequent SAR studies aimed at identifying PrRP analogues acting as either agonists or antagonists at the Hgr3 receptor. Such PrRP analogues could be useful receptorial tools able to clarify the multiple biological functions hypothesized for the PrRP receptor in the central nervous system.

  • Solution structure of the Alzheimer amyloid beta-peptide (1-42) in an apolar microenvironment. Similarity with a virus fusion domain.

    Publication Date: 01/11/2002 on European journal of biochemistry
    by Crescenzi O, Tomaselli S, Guerrini R, Salvadori S, D'Ursi AM, Temussi PA, Picone D

    The major components of neuritic plaques found in Alzheimer disease (AD) are peptides known as amyloid beta-peptides (Abeta), which derive from the proteolitic cleavage of the amyloid precursor proteins. In vitro Abeta may undergo a conformational transition from a soluble form to aggregated, fibrillary beta-sheet structures, which seem to be neurotoxic. Alternatively, it has been suggested that an alpha-helical form can be involved in a process of membrane poration, which would then trigger cellular death. Conformational studies on these peptides in aqueous solution are complicated by their tendency to aggregate, and only recently NMR structures of Abeta-(1-40) and Abeta-(1-42) have been determined in aqueous trifluoroethanol or in SDS micelles. All these studies hint to the presence of two helical regions, connected through a flexible kink, but it proved difficult to determine the length and position of the helical stretches with accuracy and, most of all, to ascertain whether the kink region has a preferred conformation. In the search for a medium which could allow a more accurate structure determination, we performed an exhaustive solvent scan that showed a high propensity of Abeta-(1-42) to adopt helical conformations in aqueous solutions of fluorinated alcohols. The 3D NMR structure of Abeta-(1-42) shows two helical regions encompassing residues 8-25 and 28-38, connected by a regular type I beta-turn. The surprising similarity of this structure, as well as the sequence of the C-terminal moiety, with those of the fusion domain of influenza hemagglutinin suggests a direct mechanism of neurotoxicity.