Leila Birolo

Professor of Biochemistry

Name Leila
Surname Birolo
Institution University of Naples – Federico II
E-Mail birolo@unina.it
Address Department of Chemical Sciences, University of Naples Federico II, Naples 80126, Italy
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Leila Birolo


  • The co-chaperone BAG3 interacts with the cytosolic chaperonin CCT: new hints for actin folding.

    Publication Date: 01/05/2010 on The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology
    by Fontanella B, Birolo L, Infusini G, Cirulli C, Marzullo L, Pucci P, Turco MC, Tosco A
    DOI: 10.1016/j.biocel.2009.12.008

    It has been recently hypothesized that BAG3 protein, a co-chaperone of Hsp70/Hsc70, is involved in the regulation of several cell processes, such as apoptosis, autophagy and cell motility. Following the identification of Hsc70/Hsp70, further BAG3 molecular partners such as PLC-gamma and HspB8 were likewise identified, thus contributing to the characterization of the mechanisms and the biological roles carried out by this versatile protein. By using a His-tagged BAG3 protein as bait, we fished out and identified the cytosolic chaperonin CCT, a new unreported BAG3 partner. The interaction between BAG3 and CCT was confirmed and characterized by co-immunoprecipitation experiments and surface plasmon resonance techniques. Furthermore, our analyses showed a slower CCT association and a faster dissociation with a truncated form of BAG3 containing the BAG domain, thus indicating that other protein regions are essential for a high-affinity interaction. ATP or ADP does not seem to significantly influence the chaperonin binding to BAG3 protein. On the other hand, our experiments showed that BAG3 silencing by small interfering RNA slowed down cell migration and influence the availability of correctly folded monomeric actin, analyzed by DNAse I binding assays and latrunculin A depolymerization studies. To our knowledge, this is the first report showing a biologically relevant interaction between the chaperonin CCT and BAG3 protein, thus suggesting interesting involvement in the folding processes regulated by CCT.

  • Proteomic strategies for the identification of proteinaceous binders in paintings.

    Publication Date: 01/12/2009 on Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry
    by Leo G, Cartechini L, Pucci P, Sgamellotti A, Marino G, Birolo L
    DOI: 10.1007/s00216-009-3185-y

    The identification of proteinaceous components in paintings remains a challenging task for several reasons. In addition to the minute amount of sample available, complex and variable chemical composition of the paints themselves, possible simultaneous presence of several binders and contaminants, and degradation of the original materials due to aging and pollution are complicating factors. We proposed proteomic strategies for the identification of proteins in binders of paintings that can be adapted to overcome the requirements and difficulties presented by specific samples. In particular, we worked on (1) the development of a minimally invasive method based on the direct tryptic cleavage of the sample without protein extraction; (2) the use of microwave to enhance the enzymatic digestion yield, followed by the analysis of the peptide mixtures by nanoLC-MS/MS with electrospray ionization (ESI). Moreover, as an additional tool to tackle the problem of contaminating proteins, we exploited the possibility of generating an exclusion list of the mass signals that in a first run had been fragmented and that the mass spectrometer had to ignore for fragmentation in a subsequent run. The methods, tested on model samples, allowed the identification of milk proteins in a sample from paintings attributed to Cimabue and Giotto, thirteenth-century Italian masters, decorating the vaults of the upper church in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy.

  • The role of the conserved residues His-246, His-199, and Tyr-255 in the catalysis of catechol 2,3-dioxygenase from Pseudomonas stutzeri OX1.

    Publication Date: 19/11/2004 on The Journal of biological chemistry
    by Viggiani A, Siani L, Notomista E, Birolo L, Pucci P, Di Donato A
    DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M406243200

    Catechol 2,3-dioxygenase (C2,3O) from Pseudomonas stutzeri OX1, which is able to grow on various aromatic substrates as the sole source of carbon and energy, has been expressed in Escherichia coli, purified, characterized, and found to be very similar to other dioxygenases from Pseudomonas species. Interestingly, the activity of the protein shows a rather unusual pH dependence when assayed on catechol. A model of the catalytic mechanism was developed that is able to reproduce the catalytic behavior of the protein as a function of the pH. The model includes multiple equilibria and four productive intermediates with different ionization states of the enzyme-substrate complex. The fitting of the theoretical curve to the experimental data suggests that a tyrosine and two histidine residues are involved in catalysis. Mutants (H246N)-, (H246A)-, (H199N)- and (Y255F)-C2,3O were produced to investigate the role of highly conserved His-199, His-246, and Tyr-255. The strongly reduced activity of the mutants suggests a primary catalytic role for each of these residues. Moreover, mutants at positions 199 and 246 display pH profiles different from that of the wild-type protein, thus indicating that residues His-246 and His-199 play a role in determining the unusual pH dependence of the enzyme. In addition, electron-withdrawing groups on catechol, which increase the acidity of the phenolic hydroxyl group, are able to counterbalance the effect of the mutation H246N in reducing catalytic activity but cause a further reduction of the activity of (H199N)-C2,3O. This finding suggests that His-246 is involved in the initial catechol deprotonation, whereas His-199 promotes the reaction between oxygen and the aromatic ring.

  • Conformational analysis of HAMLET, the folding variant of human alpha-lactalbumin associated with apoptosis.

    Publication Date: 01/05/2004 on Protein science : a publication of the Protein Society
    by Casbarra A, Birolo L, Infusini G, Dal Piaz F, Svensson M, Pucci P, Svanborg C, Marino G
    DOI: 10.1110/ps.03474704

    A combination of hydrogen/deuterium (H/D) exchange and limited proteolysis experiments coupled to mass spectrometry analysis was used to depict the conformation in solution of HAMLET, the folding variant of human alpha-lactalbumin, complexed to oleic acid, that induces apoptosis in tumor and immature cells. Although near- and far-UV CD and fluorescence spectroscopy were not able to discriminate between HAMLET and apo-alpha-lactalbumin, H/D exchange experiments clearly showed that they correspond to two distinct conformational states, with HAMLET incorporating a greater number of deuterium atoms than the apo and holo forms. Complementary proteolysis experiments revealed that HAMLET and apo are both accessible to proteases in the beta-domain but showed substantial differences in accessibility to proteases at specific sites. The overall results indicated that the conformational changes associated with the release of Ca2+ are not sufficient to induce the HAMLET conformation. Metal depletion might represent the first event to produce a partial unfolding in the beta-domain of alpha-lactalbumin, but some more unfolding is needed to generate the active conformation HAMLET, very likely allowing the protein to bind the C18:1 fatty acid moiety. On the basis of these data, a putative binding site of the oleic acid, which stabilizes the HAMLET conformation, is proposed.

  • Hexafluoroisopropanol and acid destabilized forms of apomyoglobin exhibit structural differences.

    Publication Date: 21/01/2003 on Biochemistry
    by Sirangelo I, Dal Piaz F, Malmo C, Casillo M, Birolo L, Pucci P, Marino G, Irace G
    DOI: 10.1021/bi020447f

    The conformational properties of partially folded states of apomyoglobin have been investigated using an integrated approach based on fluorescence spectroscopy and hydrogen/deuterium exchange followed by mass spectrometry. The examined states were those obtained: (i) by adding 4% v/v hexafluoroisopropanol to native myoglobin, HFIP-MG(N); (ii) by adding 4% v/v hexafluoroisopropanol to acid unfolded myoglobin, HFIP-MG(U); (iii) at pH 3.8, I-1 state; and (iv) at pH 2.0-0.2 M NaCl, A state. Proteolytic digestion of the hydrogen/deuterium exchanged proteins showed that, in I-1 state, the helices C, D, E, and F incorporate more deuterium, whereas in HFIP-MG(N) the exchange rate is similar for all protein regions. These results suggest that I-1 contains the ABGH domain in a native-like organization, whereas HFIP-MG(N) loses a large number of tertiary interactions, thus acquiring a more flexible structure. The fluorescence data are consistent with the above picture. In fact, the tryptophan/ANS energy transfer is much less efficient for the ANS-HFIP-MG(N) complex than for the other complexes, thus suggesting that the distances between the fluorophores might be increased. Moreover, fluorescence polarization measurements indicated that the rotational motion of HFIP-MG(N) occurs on a longer time scale than the other partially folded states, thus suggesting that the volume of this state could be larger. The overall results indicate that addition of hexafluoroisopropanol to native myoglobin results in the formation of a true molten globule where tertiary interactions are reduced, while the secondary structure and the globular compactness are conserved.

  • Structural characterization of the M* partly folded intermediate of wild type and P138A aspartate aminotransferase from Escherichia coli.

    Publication Date: 17/05/2002 on The Journal of biological chemistry
    by Birolo L, Dal Piaz F, Pucci P, Marino G
    DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M200650200

    A combination of spectroscopic techniques, hydrogen/deuterium exchange, and limited proteolysis experiments coupled to mass spectrometry analysis was used to depict the topology of the monomeric M* partly folded intermediate of aspartate aminotransferase from Escherichia coli in wild type (WT) as well as in a mutant form in which the highly conserved cis-proline at position 138 was replaced by a trans-alanine (P138A). Fluorescence analysis indicates that, although M* is an off-pathway intermediate in the folding of WT aspartate aminotransferase from E. coli, it seems to coincide with an on-pathway folding intermediate for the P138A mutant. Spectroscopic data, hydrogen/deuterium exchange, and limited proteolysis experiments demonstrated the occurrence of conformational differences between the two M* intermediates, with P138A-M* being conceivably more compact than WT-M*. Limited proteolysis data suggested that these conformational differences might be related to a different relative orientation of the small and large domains of the protein induced by the presence of the cis-proline residue at position 138. These differences between the two M* species indicated that in WT-M* Pro138 is in the cis conformation at this stage of the folding process. Moreover, hydrogen/deuterium exchange results showed the occurrence of few differences in the native N(2) forms of WT and P138A, the spectroscopic features and crystallographic structures of which are almost superimposable.

  • Binding of alpha-actinin to titin: implications for Z-disk assembly.

    Publication Date: 09/05/2000 on Biochemistry
    by Atkinson RA, Joseph C, Dal Piaz F, Birolo L, Stier G, Pucci P, Pastore A

    Titin is an exceptionally large protein (M.Wt. approximately 3 MDa) that spans half the sarcomere in muscle, from the Z-disk to the M-line. In the Z-disk, it interacts with alpha-actinin homodimers that are a principal component of the Z-filaments linking actin filaments. The interaction between titin and alpha-actinin involves repeating approximately 45 amino acid sequences (Z-repeats) near the N-terminus of titin and the C-lobe of the C-terminal calmodulin-like domain of alpha-actinin. The conformation of Z-repeat 7 (ZR7) of titin when complexed with the 73-amino acid C-terminal portion of alpha-actinin (EF34) was studied by heteronuclear NMR spectroscopy using (15)N-labeling of ZR7 and found to be helical over a stretch of 18 residues. Complex formation resulted in the protection of one site of preferential cleavage of EF34 at Phe14-Leu17, as determined by limited proteolysis experiments coupled to mass spectrometry measurements. Intermolecular NOEs show Val16 of ZR7 to be positioned close in space to the backbone of EF34 around Phe14. These observations suggest that the mode of binding of ZR7 to EF34 is similar to that of troponin I to troponin C and of peptide C20W to calmodulin. These complexes would appear to represent a general alternative binding mode of calmodulin-like domains to target peptides.

  • Aspartate aminotransferase from the Antarctic bacterium Pseudoalteromonas haloplanktis TAC 125. Cloning, expression, properties, and molecular modelling.

    Publication Date: 01/05/2000 on European journal of biochemistry
    by Birolo L, Tutino ML, Fontanella B, Gerday C, Mainolfi K, Pascarella S, Sannia G, Vinci F, Marino G

    The gene encoding aspartate aminotransferase from the psychrophilic bacterium Pseudoalteromonas haloplanktis TAC 125 was cloned, sequenced and overexpressed in Escherichia coli. The recombinant protein (PhAspAT) was characterized both at the structural and functional level in comparison with the E. coli enzyme (EcAspAT), which is the most closely related (52% sequence identity) bacterial counterpart. PhAspAT is rapidly inactivated at 50 degrees C (half-life = 6.8 min), whereas at this temperature EcAspAT is stable for at least 3 h. The optimal temperature for PhAspAT activity is approximately 64 degrees C, which is some 11 degrees C below that of EcAspAT. The protein thermal stability was investigated by following changes in both tryptophan fluorescence and amide ellipticity; this clearly suggested that a first structural transition occurs at approximately 50 degrees C for PhAspAT. These results agree with the expected thermolability of a psychrophilic enzyme, although the observed stability is much higher than generally found for enzymes isolated from cold-loving organisms. Furthermore, in contrast with the higher efficiency exhibited by several extracellular psychrophilic enzymes, both kcat and kcat/Km of PhAspAT are significantly lower than those of EcAspAT over the whole temperature range. This behaviour possibly suggests that the adaptation of this class of endocellular enzymes to a cold environment may have only made them less stable and not more efficient. The affinity of PhAspAT for both amino-acid and 2-oxo-acid substrates decreases with increasing temperature. However, binding of maleate and 2-methyl-L-aspartate, which both inhibit the initial steps of catalysis, does not change over the temperature range tested. Therefore, the observed temperature effect may occur at any of the steps of the catalytic mechanism after the formation of the external aldimine. A molecular model of PhAspAT was constructed on the basis of sequence homology with other AspATs. Interestingly, it shows no insertion or extension of loops, but some cavities and a decrease in side chain packing can be observed.

  • Functional and structural analysis of cis-proline mutants of Escherichia coli aspartate aminotransferase.

    Publication Date: 19/01/1999 on Biochemistry
    by Birolo L, Malashkevich VN, Capitani G, De Luca F, Moretta A, Jansonius JN, Marino G
    DOI: 10.1021/bi981467d

    To elucidate the role of the two conserved cis-proline residues of aspartate aminotransferase (AspAT), one double and two single mutants of the enzyme from Escherichia coli (EcAspAT) were prepared: P138A, P195A and P138A/P195A in which the two prolines were replaced by alanine. The crystal structures of P195A and P138A/P195A have been determined at 2.3-2.1 A resolution. The wild-type geometry, including the cis conformation of the 194-195 peptide bond is retained upon substitution of proline 195 by alanine, whereas the trans conformation is adopted at the 137-138 peptide bond. Quite surprisingly, the replacement of each of the two prolines by alanine does not significantly affect either the activity or the stability of the protein. All the three mutants follow the same pathway as the wild type for unfolding equilibrium induced by guanidine hydrochloride [Herold, M., and Kirschner, K. (1990) Biochemistry 29, 1907-1913]. The kinetics of renaturation of P195A, where the alanine retains the wild-type cis conformation, is faster than wild type, whereas renaturation of P138A, which adopts the trans conformation, is slower. We conclude that cis-prolines seem to have been retained throughout the evolution of aspartate aminotransferase to possibly play a subtle role in directing the traffic of intermediates toward the unique structure of the native state, rather than to respond to the needs for a specific catalytic or functional role.

  • The active site of Sulfolobus solfataricus aspartate aminotransferase.

    Publication Date: 15/11/1991 on Biochimica et biophysica acta
    by Birolo L, Arnone MI, Cubellis MV, Andreotti G, Nitti G, Marino G, Sannia G

    Aspartate aminotransferase from the archaebacterium Sulfolobus solfataricus binds pyridoxal 5' phosphate, via an aldimine bond, with Lys-241. This residue has been identified by reducing the enzyme in the pyridoxal form with sodium cyanoboro[3H]hydride and sequencing the specifically labeled peptic peptides. The amino acid sequence centered around the coenzyme binding site is highly conserved between thermophilic aspartate aminotransferases and differs from that found in mesophilic isoenzymes. An alignment of aspartate aminotransferase from Sulfolobus solfataricus with mesophilic isoenzymes, attempted in spite of the low degree of similarity, was confirmed by the correspondence between pyridoxal 5' phosphate binding residues. Using this alignment it was possible to insert the archaebacterial aspartate aminotransferase into a subclass, subclass I, of pyridoxal 5' phosphate binding enzymes comprising mesophilic aspartate aminotransferases, tyrosine aminotransferases and histidinol phosphate aminotransferases. These enzymes share 12 invariant amino acids most of which interact with the coenzyme or with the substrates. Some enzymes of subclass I and in particular aspartate aminotransferase from Sulfolobus solfataricus, lack a positively charged residue, corresponding to Arg-292, which in pig cytosolic aspartate aminotransferase interacts with the distal carboxylate of the substrates (and determines the specificity towards dicarboxylic acids). It was confirmed that aspartate aminotransferase from Sulfolobus solfataricus does not possess any arginine residue exposed to chemical modifications responsible for the binding of omega-carboxylate of the substrates. Furthermore, it has been found that aspartate aminotransferase from Sulfolobus solfataricus is fairly active when alanine is used as substrate and that this activity is not affected by the presence of formate. The KM value of the thermophilic aspartate aminotransferase towards alanine is at least one order of magnitude lower than that of the mesophilic analogue enzymes.