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1.  Structural Bases for the Regulation of CO Binding in the Archaeal Protoglobin from Methanosarcina acetivorans 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0125959.
Studies of CO ligand binding revealed that two protein states with different ligand affinities exist in the protoglobin from Methanosarcina acetivorans (in MaPgb*, residue Cys(E20)101 was mutated to Ser). The switch between the two states occurs upon the ligation of MaPgb*. In this work, site-directed mutagenesis was used to explore the role of selected amino acids in ligand sensing and stabilization and in affecting the equilibrium between the “more reactive” and “less reactive” conformational states of MaPgb*. A combination of experimental data obtained from electronic and resonance Raman absorption spectra, CO ligand-binding kinetics, and X-ray crystallography was employed. Three amino acids were assigned a critical role: Trp(60)B9, Tyr(61)B10, and Phe(93)E11. Trp(60)B9 and Tyr(61)B10 are involved in ligand stabilization in the distal heme pocket; the strength of their interaction was reflected by the spectra of the CO-ligated MaPgb* and by the CO dissociation rate constants. In contrast, Phe(93)E11 is a key player in sensing the heme-bound ligand and promotes the rotation of the Trp(60)B9 side chain, thus favoring ligand stabilization. Although the structural bases of the fast CO binding rate constant of MaPgb* are still unclear, Trp(60)B9, Tyr(61)B10, and Phe(93)E11 play a role in regulating heme/ligand affinity.
PMCID: PMC4457829  PMID: 26047471
2.  Structure and dynamics of the membrane attaching nitric oxide transporter nitrophorin 7 
F1000Research  2015;4:45.
Nitrophorins represent a unique class of heme proteins that are able to perform the delicate transportation and release of the free-radical gaseous messenger nitric oxide (NO) in a pH-triggered manner. Besides its ability to bind to phospholipid membranes, the N-terminus contains an additional Leu-Pro-Gly stretch, which is a unique sequence trait, and the heme cavity is significantly altered with respect to other nitrophorins. These distinctive features encouraged us to solve the X-ray crystallographic structures of NP7 at low and high pH and bound with different heme ligands (nitric oxide, histamine, imidazole). The overall fold of the lipocalin motif is well preserved in the different X-ray structures and resembles the fold of other nitrophorins. However, a chain-like arrangement in the crystal lattice due to a number of head-to-tail electrostatic stabilizing interactions is found in NP7. Furthermore, the X-ray structures also reveal ligand-dependent changes in the orientation of the heme, as well as in specific interactions between the A-B and G-H loops, which are considered to be relevant for the biological function of nitrophorins. Fast and ultrafast laser triggered ligand rebinding experiments demonstrate the pH-dependent ligand migration within the cavities and the exit route. Finally, the topological distribution of pockets located around the heme as well as from inner cavities present at the rear of the protein provides a distinctive feature in NP7, so that while a loop gated exit mechanism to the solvent has been proposed for most nitrophorins, a more complex mechanism that involves several interconnected gas hosting cavities is proposed for NP7.
PMCID: PMC4482215  PMID: 26167269
Nitrophorin 7; X-ray crystallography; ultrafast laser flash photolysis; ligand rebinding; molecular dynamics simulations; inner cavities; kinetics mechanism
3.  The Dark Recovery Rate in the Photocycle of the Bacterial Photoreceptor YtvA Is Affected by the Cellular Environment and by Hydration 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107489.
We report thermal recovery kinetics of the lit state into the parental dark state, measured for the blue light-sensing photoreceptor YtvA inside overexpressing E. coli and B. subtilis bacterial cells, performed for the wild type and several mutated proteins. Recovery was followed as a recovery of the fluorescence, as this property is only found for the parental but not for the photochemically generated lit state. When cells were deposited onto a microscope glass plate, the observed thermal recovery rate in the photocycle was found ca. ten times faster in comparison to purified YtvA in solution. When the E. coli or B. subtilis colonies were soaked in an isotonic buffer, the dark relaxation became again much slower and was very similar to that observed for YtvA in solution. The observed effects show that rate constants can be tuned by the cellular environment through factors such as hydration.
PMCID: PMC4161478  PMID: 25211155
4.  Structure and Haem-Distal Site Plasticity in Methanosarcina acetivorans Protoglobin 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66144.
Protoglobin from Methanosarcina acetivorans C2A (MaPgb), a strictly anaerobic methanogenic Archaea, is a dimeric haem-protein whose biological role is still unknown. As other globins, protoglobin can bind O2, CO and NO reversibly in vitro, but it displays specific functional and structural properties within members of the hemoglobin superfamily. CO binding to and dissociation from the haem occurs through biphasic kinetics, which arise from binding to (and dissociation from) two distinct tertiary states in a ligation-dependent equilibrium. From the structural viewpoint, protoglobin-specific loops and a N-terminal extension of 20 residues completely bury the haem within the protein matrix. Thus, access of small ligand molecules to the haem is granted by two apolar tunnels, not common to other globins, which reach the haem distal site from locations at the B/G and B/E helix interfaces. Here, the roles played by residues Trp(60)B9, Tyr(61)B10 and Phe(93)E11 in ligand recognition and stabilization are analyzed, through crystallographic investigations on the ferric protein and on selected mutants. Specifically, protein structures are reported for protoglobin complexes with cyanide, with azide (also in the presence of Xenon), and with more bulky ligands, such as imidazole and nicotinamide. Values of the rate constant for cyanide dissociation from ferric MaPgb-cyanide complexes have been correlated to hydrogen bonds provided by Trp(60)B9 and Tyr(61)B10 that stabilize the haem-Fe(III)-bound cyanide. We show that protoglobin can strikingly reshape, in a ligand-dependent way, the haem distal site, where Phe(93)E11 acts as ligand sensor and controls accessibility to the haem through the tunnel system by modifying the conformation of Trp(60)B9.
PMCID: PMC3680402  PMID: 23776624
5.  CO Rebinding Kinetics and Molecular Dynamics Simulations Highlight Dynamic Regulation of Internal Cavities in Human Cytoglobin 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e49770.
Cytoglobin (Cygb) was recently discovered in the human genome and localized in different tissues. It was suggested to play tissue-specific protective roles, spanning from scavenging of reactive oxygen species in neurons to supplying oxygen to enzymes in fibroblasts. To shed light on the functioning of such versatile machinery, we have studied the processes supporting transport of gaseous heme ligands in Cygb. Carbon monoxide rebinding shows a complex kinetic pattern with several distinct reaction intermediates, reflecting rebinding from temporary docking sites, second order recombination, and formation (and dissociation) of a bis-histidyl heme hexacoordinated reaction intermediate. Ligand exit to the solvent occurs through distinct pathways, some of which exploit temporary docking sites. The remarkable change in energetic barriers, linked to heme bis-histidyl hexacoordination by HisE7, may be responsible for active regulation of the flux of reactants and products to and from the reaction site on the distal side of the heme. A substantial change in both protein dynamics and inner cavities is observed upon transition from the CO-liganded to the pentacoordinated and bis-histidyl hexacoordinated species, which could be exploited as a signalling state. These findings are consistent with the expected versatility of the molecular activity of this protein.
PMCID: PMC3537629  PMID: 23308092
6.  Biophysical Characterisation of Neuroglobin of the Icefish, a Natural Knockout for Hemoglobin and Myoglobin. Comparison with Human Neuroglobin 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e44508.
The Antarctic icefish Chaenocephalus aceratus lacks the globins common to most vertebrates, hemoglobin and myoglobin, but has retained neuroglobin in the brain. This conserved globin has been cloned, over-expressed and purified. To highlight similarities and differences, the structural features of the neuroglobin of this colourless-blooded fish were compared with those of the well characterised human neuroglobin as well as with the neuroglobin from the retina of the red blooded, hemoglobin and myoglobin-containing, closely related Antarctic notothenioid Dissostichus mawsoni. A detailed structural and functional analysis of the two Antarctic fish neuroglobins was carried out by UV-visible and Resonance Raman spectroscopies, molecular dynamics simulations and laser-flash photolysis. Similar to the human protein, Antarctic fish neuroglobins can reversibly bind oxygen and CO in the Fe2+ form, and show six-coordination by distal His in the absence of exogenous ligands. A very large and structured internal cavity, with discrete docking sites, was identified in the modelled three-dimensional structures of the Antarctic neuroglobins. Estimate of the free-energy barriers from laser-flash photolysis and Implicit Ligand Sampling showed that the cavities are accessible from the solvent in both proteins.
Comparison of structural and functional properties suggests that the two Antarctic fish neuroglobins most likely preserved and possibly improved the function recently proposed for human neuroglobin in ligand multichemistry. Despite subtle differences, the adaptation of Antarctic fish neuroglobins does not seem to parallel the dramatic adaptation of the oxygen carrying globins, hemoglobin and myoglobin, in the same organisms.
PMCID: PMC3513292  PMID: 23226490
7.  Following Ligand Migration Pathways from Picoseconds to Milliseconds in Type II Truncated Hemoglobin from Thermobifida fusca 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e39884.
CO recombination kinetics has been investigated in the type II truncated hemoglobin from Thermobifida fusca (Tf-trHb) over more than 10 time decades (from 1 ps to ∼100 ms) by combining femtosecond transient absorption, nanosecond laser flash photolysis and optoacoustic spectroscopy. Photolysis is followed by a rapid geminate recombination with a time constant of ∼2 ns representing almost 60% of the overall reaction. An additional, small amplitude geminate recombination was identified at ∼100 ns. Finally, CO pressure dependent measurements brought out the presence of two transient species in the second order rebinding phase, with time constants ranging from ∼3 to ∼100 ms. The available experimental evidence suggests that the two transients are due to the presence of two conformations which do not interconvert within the time frame of the experiment. Computational studies revealed that the plasticity of protein structure is able to define a branched pathway connecting the ligand binding site and the solvent. This allowed to build a kinetic model capable of describing the complete time course of the CO rebinding kinetics to Tf-trHb.
PMCID: PMC3391200  PMID: 22792194
8.  Ligation Tunes Protein Reactivity in an Ancient Haemoglobin: Kinetic Evidence for an Allosteric Mechanism in Methanosarcina acetivorans Protoglobin 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33614.
Protoglobin from Methanosarcina acetivorans (MaPgb) is a dimeric globin with peculiar structural properties such as a completely buried haem and two orthogonal tunnels connecting the distal cavity to the solvent. CO binding to and dissociation from MaPgb occur through a biphasic kinetics. We show that the heterogenous kinetics arises from binding to (and dissociation from) two tertiary conformations in ligation-dependent equilibrium. Ligation favours the species with high binding rate (and low dissociation rate). The equilibrium is shifted towards the species with low binding (and high dissociation) rates for the unliganded molecules. A quantitative model is proposed to describe the observed carbonylation kinetics.
PMCID: PMC3313925  PMID: 22479420
9.  Low affinity PEGylated hemoglobin from Trematomus bernacchii, a model for hemoglobin-based blood substitutes 
BMC Biochemistry  2011;12:66.
Conjugation of human and animal hemoglobins with polyethylene glycol has been widely explored as a means to develop blood substitutes, a novel pharmaceutical class to be used in surgery or emergency medicine. However, PEGylation of human hemoglobin led to products with significantly different oxygen binding properties with respect to the unmodified tetramer and high NO dioxygenase reactivity, known causes of toxicity. These recent findings call for the biotechnological development of stable, low-affinity PEGylated hemoglobins with low NO dioxygenase reactivity.
To investigate the effects of PEGylation on protein structure and function, we compared the PEGylation products of human hemoglobin and Trematomus bernacchii hemoglobin, a natural variant endowed with a remarkably low oxygen affinity and high tetramer stability. We show that extension arm facilitated PEGylation chemistry based on the reaction of T. bernacchii hemoglobin with 2-iminothiolane and maleimido-functionalyzed polyethylene glycol (MW 5000 Da) leads to a tetraPEGylated product, more homogeneous than the corresponding derivative of human hemoglobin. PEGylated T. bernacchii hemoglobin largely retains the low affinity of the unmodified tetramer, with a p50 50 times higher than PEGylated human hemoglobin. Moreover, it is still sensitive to protons and the allosteric effector ATP, indicating the retention of allosteric regulation. It is also 10-fold less reactive towards nitrogen monoxide than PEGylated human hemoglobin.
These results indicate that PEGylated hemoglobins, provided that a suitable starting hemoglobin variant is chosen, can cover a wide range of oxygen-binding properties, potentially meeting the functional requirements of blood substitutes in terms of oxygen affinity, tetramer stability and NO dioxygenase reactivity.
PMCID: PMC3268738  PMID: 22185675

Results 1-9 (9)