Maria Grazia Di Certo

National Research Council, Roma, Latium, Italy

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Publications (15)68.56 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Over-expression of the dystrophin-related gene utrophin represents a promising therapeutic strategy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The strategy is based on the ability of utrophin to functionally replace defective dystrophin. We developed the artificial zinc finger transcription factor ''Jazz" that up-regulates both the human and mouse utrophin promoter. We observed a significant recovery of muscle strength in dystrophic Jazz-transgenic mdx mice. Here we demonstrate the efficacy of an experimental gene therapy based on the systemic delivery of Jazz gene in mdx mice by adeno-associated virus (AAV). AAV serotype 8 was chosen on the basis of its high affinity for skeletal muscle. Muscle-specific expression of the therapeutic Jazz gene was enhanced by adding the muscle α-actin promoter to the AAV vector (mAAV). Injection of mAAV8-Jazz viral preparations into mdx mice resulted in muscle-specific Jazz expression coupled with up-regulation of the utrophin gene. We show a significant recovery from the dystrophic phenotype in mAAV8-Jazz treated mdx mice. Histological and physiological analysis revealed a reduction of fiber necrosis and inflammatory cell infiltration associated with functional recovery in muscle contractile force. The combination of ZF-ATF technology with the AAV delivery can open a new avenue to obtain a therapeutic strategy for treatment of DMD. J. Cell. Physiol. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 01/2014; · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To combat threats posed by DNA damage cells have evolved mechanisms, collectively termed DNA-damage response (DDR). These mechanisms detect DNA lesions, signal their presence and promote their repair. Centrosomes integrate G2/M checkpoint control and repair signals in response to genotoxic stress, acting as an efficient back-up mechanism when G2/M checkpoint function fails and mitosis begins in the presence of damaged DNA. Che-1 is a RNA polymerase II-binding protein involved in the regulation of gene transcription, induction of cell proliferation and DDR. Here we provide evidence that in addition to its nuclear localization Che-1 localizes at interphase centrosomes, where it accumulates following DNA damage. We show that Che-1 depletion generates supernumerary centrosomes, multinucleated cells and multipolar spindle formation. Notably, Che-1 inhibition abolishes the ability of Chk1 to bind pericentrin and to localize at centrosomes, which, in its turn, deregulates the activation of centrosomal cyclin B-Cdk1 and anticipates entry into mitosis. Our results reinforce the notion that Che-1 plays an important role in DDR, and that its contribution seems to be relevant for the control of cell division.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 06/2013; · 4.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Different pathological tau species are involved in memory loss in Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia among older people. However, little is known about how tau pathology directly affects adult hippocampal neurogenesis, a unique form of structural plasticity implicated in hippocampus-dependent spatial learning and mood-related behavior. To this aim, we generated a transgenic mouse model conditionally expressing a pathological tau fragment (26-230 aa of the longest human tau isoform, or N-tau) in nestin-positive stem/progenitor cells. We found that N-tau reduced the proliferation of progenitor cells in the adult dentate gyrus, reduced cell survival and increased cell death by a caspase-3-independent mechanism, and recruited microglia. Although the number of terminally differentiated neurons was reduced, these showed an increased dendritic arborization and spine density. This resulted in an increase of anxiety-related behavior and an impairment of episodic-like memory, whereas less complex forms of spatial learning remained unaltered. Understanding how pathological tau species directly affect neurogenesis is important for developing potential therapeutic strategies to direct neurogenic instructive cues for hippocampal function repair.
    Neurobiology of aging 06/2013; · 5.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Amyloid-β protein precursor (AβPP) is a ubiquitous protein found in all cell types, suggesting basic and yet important roles, which still remain to be fully elucidated. Loss of function of AβPP has been linked to abnormal neuronal morphology and synaptic function within the hippocampus and alterations in spatial learning, suggesting a neurotrophic role for this protein. Besides AβPP, nerve growth factor (NGF) and other neurotrophins have also been shown to finely modulate neuronal excitability, synaptic plasticity, and cognitive functions. In addition, recent data support the hypothesis of a functional interconnection between AβPP and NGF pathway. Here, we demonstrated that loss of AβPP function, leading to progressive decrease of choline acetyltransferase expression in the septum, correlates with age-related impairment of long-term potentiation (LTP) in the dentate gyrus. We next addressed whether impaired hippocampal plasticity in AβPP-null mice can be restored upon NGF treatment. Notably, NGF, as well as Pro-NGF, can fully revert LTP deficits in AβPP-null mice through p75NTR and JNK pathway activation. Overall the present study may unveil a new mechanism by which, in the absence of AβPP, NGF treatment may preferentially direct p75-neurotrophin-dependent JNK activation toward regeneration and plasticity in functionally relevant brain circuits.
    Journal of Alzheimer's disease: JAD 09/2012; · 4.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Zinc finger (ZF) proteins belonging to the Cys2-His2 class provide a simple and versatile framework to design novel artificial transcription factors (ATFs) targeted to the desired genes. Our work is based on ZF ATFs engineered to up-regulate the expression level of the dystrophin-related gene utrophin in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In particular, on the basis of the "recognition code" that defines specific rules between zinc finger primary structure and potential DNA-binding sites we engineered and selected a new family of artificial transcription factors, whose DNA-binding domain consists in a three zinc finger peptide called "Jazz." Jazz protein binds specifically the 9 bp DNA sequence (5(')-GCT-GCT-GCG-3(')) present in the promoter region of both the human and mouse utrophin gene. We generated a transgenic mouse expressing Jazz protein fused to the strong transcriptional activation domain VP16 and under the control of the muscle specific promoter of the myosin light chain gene. Vp16-Jazz mice display a strong up-regulation of the utrophin at both mRNA and protein levels. To our knowledge, this represents the first example of a transgenic mouse expressing an artificial gene coding for a zinc finger-based transcription factor.
    Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) 01/2010; 649:183-206. · 1.29 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Here, we show that the eukaryotic translation elongation factor 1 gamma (eEF1γ) physically interacts with the RNA polymerase II (pol II) core subunit 3 (RPB3), both in isolation and in the context of the holo-enzyme. Importantly, eEF1γ has been recently shown to bind Vimentin mRNA. By chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, we demonstrate, for the first time, that eEF1γ is also physically present on the genomic locus corresponding to the promoter region of human Vimentin gene. The eEF1γ depletion causes the Vimentin protein to be incorrectly compartmentalised and to severely compromise cellular shape and mitochondria localisation. We demonstrate that eEF1γ partially colocalises with the mitochondrial marker Tom20 and that eEF1γ depletion increases mitochondrial superoxide generation as well as the total levels of carbonylated proteins. Finally, we hypothesise that eEF1γ, in addition to its role in translation elongation complex, is involved in regulating Vimentin gene by contacting both pol II and the Vimentin promoter region and then shuttling/nursing the Vimentin mRNA from its gene locus to its appropriate cellular compartment for translation.
    PLoS ONE 01/2010; 5(12):e14481. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The absence of the cytoskeletal protein dystrophin results in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The utrophin protein is the best candidate for dystrophin replacement in DMD patients. To obtain therapeutic levels of utrophin expression in dystrophic muscle, we developed an alternative strategy based on the use of artificial zinc finger transcription factors (ZF ATFs). The ZF ATF 'Jazz' was recently engineered and tested in vivo by generating a transgenic mouse specifically expressing Jazz at the muscular level. To validate the ZF ATF technology for DMD treatment we generated a second mouse model by crossing Jazz-transgenic mice with dystrophin-deficient mdx mice. Here, we show that the artificial Jazz protein restores sarcolemmal integrity and prevents the development of the dystrophic disease in mdx mice. This exclusive animal model establishes the notion that utrophin-based therapy for DMD can be efficiently developed using ZF ATF technology and candidates Jazz as a novel therapeutic molecule for DMD therapy.
    Human Molecular Genetics 12/2009; 19(5):752-60. · 7.69 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Our aim is to upregulate the expression level of the dystrophin related gene utrophin in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, thus complementing the lack of dystrophin functions. To this end, we have engineered synthetic zinc finger based transcription factors. We have previously shown that the artificial three-zinc finger protein named Jazz fused with the Vp16 activation domain, is able to bind utrophin promoter A and to increase the endogenous level of utrophin in transgenic mice. Here, we report on an innovative artificial protein, named CJ7, that consists of Jazz DNA binding domain fused to a novel activation domain derived from the regulatory multivalent adaptor protein Che-1/AATF. This transcriptional activation domain is 100 amino acids in size and it is very powerful as compared to the Vp16 activation domain. We show that CJ7 protein efficiently promotes transcription and accumulation of the acetylated form of histone H3 on the genomic utrophin promoter locus.
    Neuromuscular Disorders 02/2009; 19(2):158-62. · 3.46 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Chimeric proteins obtained by the fusion of a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) sequence to the N-terminus of the G protein alpha-subunit have been extensively used to investigate several aspects of GPCR signalling. Although both the receptor and the G protein generally maintain a fully functional state in such polypeptides, original observations made using a chimera between the beta2-adrenergic receptor (beta2AR) and Galphas indicated that the fusion to the alpha-subunit resulted in a marked reduction of receptor desensitization and down-regulation. To further investigate this phenomenon, we have compared the rates of internalization and recycling between wild-type and Galphas-fused beta2AR. The rate of agonist-induced internalization, measured as the disappearance of cell surface immunofluorescence in HEK293 cells permanently expressing N-terminus tagged receptors, was reduced three-fold by receptor-G protein fusion. However, both fused and non-fused receptors translocated to the same endocytic compartment, as determined by dual-label confocal analysis of cells co-expressing both proteins and transferrin co-localization. Receptor recycling, determined as the reversion of surface immunofluorescence following the addition of antagonist to cells that were previously exposed to agonist, markedly differed between wild-type and fused receptors. While most of the internalized beta2AR returned rapidly to the plasma membrane, beta2AR-Galphas did not recycle, and the observed slow recovery for the fusion protein immunofluorescence was entirely accounted for by protein synthesis. The covalent linkage between beta2AR and Galphas does not appear to alter the initial endocytic translocation of the two proteins, although there is reduced efficiency. It does, however, completely disrupt the process of receptor and G protein recycling. We conclude that the physical separation between receptor and Galpha is not necessary for the transit to early endosomes, but is an essential requirement for the correct post-endocytic sorting and recycling of the two proteins.
    BMC Cell Biology 11/2008; 9:56. · 2.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP) is a member of the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins family that selectively binds and inhibits caspase-3, -7 and -9. As such, XIAP is an extremely potent suppressor of apoptosis and an attractive target for cancer treatment. Che-1 is an antiapoptotic agent involved in the control of gene transcription and cell proliferation. Recently, we showed that the checkpoint kinases ATM/ATR and checkpoint kinase 2 physically and functionally interact with Che-1 and promote its phosphorylation and accumulation in response to DNA damage. These Che-1 modifications induce transcription of p53, and Che-1 depletion strongly sensitizes tumor cells to anticancer drugs. Here we show that Che-1 activates XIAP expression in response to DNA damage. This effect is mediated by Che-1 phosphorylation and requires NF-kappaB. Notably, we found that XIAP expression is necessary for antiapoptotic activity of Che-1 and that in vivo downregulation of Che-1 by small interference RNA strongly enhanced the cytotoxicity of anticancer drugs.
    Cell Death and Differentiation 04/2008; 15(3):515-20. · 8.37 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Neurotrophin receptor-interacting MAGE homolog (NRAGE) has been recently identified as a cell-death inducer, involved in molecular events driving cells through apoptotic networks during neuronal development. Recently, we have focused on the functional role of Che-1, also known as apoptosis-antagonizing transcription factor (AATF), a protein involved in cell cycle control and gene transcription. Increasing evidence suggests that Che-1 is involved in apoptotic signalling in neural tissues. In cortical neurons Che-1 exhibits an anti-apoptotic activity, protecting cells from neuronal damage induced by amyloid beta-peptide. Here, we report that Che-1 interacts with NRAGE and that an EGFP-NRAGE fusion protein inhibits nuclear localization of Che-1, by sequestering it within the cytoplasmic compartment. Furthermore, NRAGE overexpression downregulates endogenous Che-1 by targeting it for proteasome-dependent degradation. Finally, we propose that Che-1 is a functional antagonist of NRAGE, because its overexpression completely reverts NRAGE-induced cell-death.
    Journal of Cell Science 07/2007; 120(Pt 11):1852-8. · 5.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Our aim is to upregulate the expression of the dystrophin-related gene utrophin in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, in this way complementing the lack of dystrophin function. To achieve utrophin upregulation, we designed and engineered synthetic zinc-finger based transcription factors. We have previously shown that the artificial 3-zinc-finger protein Jazz, fused with the appropriate effector domain, is able to drive the transcription of a test gene from utrophin promoter A. Here we report a novel artificial 4-zinc-finger protein, Bagly, which binds with optimized affinity-specificity to a 12 bp DNA target sequence that is internal to human utrophin promoter A. Bagly was generated adding to Jazz protein an extra-fourth zinc finger, derived from transcription factor YY1. Importantly, the Bagly DNA target sequence is statistically present in the human genome only 210 times, about 60 fewer times than the 9 bp Jazz DNA target sequence. Thanks to its additional zinc-finger domain, Bagly protein shows enhanced transcriptional activity. Moreover, we demonstrated Bagly's effective access and binding to active chromatin in the chromosomal context and its ability to upregulate endogenous utrophin.
    Biochemistry and Cell Biology 07/2007; 85(3):358-65. · 2.92 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a severe muscle degenerative disease, due to absence of dystrophin. There is currently no effective treatment for DMD. Our aim is to up-regulate the expression level of the dystrophin related gene utrophin in DMD, complementing in this way the lack of dystrophin functions. To this end we designed and engineered several synthetic zinc finger based transcription factors. In particular, we have previously shown that the artificial three zinc finger protein named Jazz, fused with the appropriate effector domain, is able to drive the transcription of a test gene from the utrophin promoter "A". Here we report on the characterization of Vp16-Jazz-transgenic mice that specifically over-express the utrophin gene at the muscular level. A Chromatin Immunoprecipitation assay (ChIP) demonstrated the effective access/binding of the Jazz protein to active chromatin in mouse muscle and Vp16-Jazz was shown to be able to up-regulate endogenous utrophin gene expression by immunohistochemistry, western blot analyses and real-time PCR. To our knowledge, this is the first example of a transgenic mouse expressing an artificial gene coding for a zinc finger based transcription factor. The achievement of Vp16-Jazz transgenic mice validates the strategy of transcriptional targeting of endogenous genes and could represent an exclusive animal model for use in drug discovery and therapeutics.
    PLoS ONE 02/2007; 2(8):e774. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Cardiac hypertrophy arises as an adaptive response to increased afterload. Studies in knockout mice have shown that catecholamines, but not alpha1-adrenergic receptors, are necessary for such an adaptation to occur. However, whether beta-adrenergic receptors are critical for the development of cardiac hypertrophy in response to pressure overload is not known at this time. Pressure overload was induced by transverse aortic banding in beta1-adrenergic and beta2-adrenergic receptor double knockout (DbetaKO) mice, in which the predominant cardiac beta-adrenergic receptor subtypes are lacking. Chronic pressure overload for 4 weeks induced cardiac hypertrophy in both DbetaKO and wild-type mice. There were no significant differences between banded mice in left ventricular weight to body weight ratio, in the left ventricular wall thickness, in the cardiomyocyte size or in the expression levels of the load-sensitive cardiac genes such as ANF and beta-MHC. Additionally, the left ventricular systolic pressure, an index of afterload, and cardiac contractility, evaluated as dp/dtmax, the maximal slope of systolic pressure increment, and Ees, end-systolic elastance, were increased at a similar level in both wild-type and DbetaKO banded mice, and were significantly greater than in sham controls. Despite chronic activation of the cardiac beta-adrenergic system being sufficient to induce a pathological hypertrophy, we show that beta1-adrenergic and beta2-adrenergic receptors are not an obligatory component of the signaling pathway that links the increased afterload to the development of cardiac hypertrophy.
    Journal of Hypertension 04/2006; 24(3):563-71. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Here, we show that the subcellular localization of alpha-like RNA polymerase II core subunit 3 (RPB3) is regulated during muscle differentiation. We have recently demonstrated that the expression of RPB3 is regulated during muscle differentiation and that, inside RNA polymerase II (RNAP II), it is directly involved in contacting regulatory proteins such as the myogenic transcription factor Myogenin and activating transcription factor ATF4. We show for the first time, that RPB3, in addition to its presence and role inside the RNAP II core enzyme, accumulates in the cytoplasm of cycling myogenic cells and migrates to the nucleus upon induction of the differentiation program. Furthermore, using human RPB3 as bait in a yeast two-hybrid system, we have isolated a novel RPB3 cytoplasmic interacting protein, HCR. HCR, previously identified as alpha-helix coiled-coil rod homologue, is one of the psoriasis vulgaris (PV) candidate genes. In cycling myogenic C2C7 cells, we show that the RPB3 protein directly interacts with HCR within the cytoplasm. Finally, knocking down HCR expression by RNA interference, we demonstrate that HCR acts as cytoplasmic docking site for RPB3.
    Journal of Cell Science 10/2005; 118(Pt 18):4253-60. · 5.88 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

120 Citations
68.56 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2008–2010
    • National Research Council
      • Institute of Neurobiology and Molecular Medicine INMM
      Roma, Latium, Italy
  • 2007–2008
    • Università degli Studi dell'Aquila
      • Department of Experimental Medicine
      Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy
    • European Brain Research Institute
      Roma, Latium, Italy
  • 2005
    • Sapienza University of Rome
      Roma, Latium, Italy