CARLOS ENRIQUE CATALANO, PHARM.D., PH.D.

Carlos was born in Hollywood California and grew up in Southern California. He eventually moved to San Francisco, where he graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Biochemistry. He then attended the University of California San Francisco, where he received a Pharm.D. in clinical pharmacy (1983) and a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry (1987), studying under Dr. Paul Ortiz de Montellano. Carlos next received an NIH post-doctoral fellowship and trained with Dr. Steve Benkovic at the Pennsylvania State University. He started his independent research career as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in 1989 and moved to the University of Washington School of Pharmacy in 2006.  He recently moved back to the University of Colorado where he is a Professor of Biochemistry.  His research program focuses on understanding how a virus "puts itself together" using biochemical and biophysical approaches. 

A virus is made up of a chromosome (DNA or RNA) that is protected from the environment by a protein "box" called a capsid.  Many viruses, such as herpesviruses and bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) put themselves together by "packaging" viral DNA into a preformed capsid shell.  A terminase enzyme acts as a motor that inserts DNA into the procapsid to assemble the virus. This is an extremely powerful motor and packaging of DNA generates over 25 atmospheres of pressure on the inside of the capsid, five times the pressure of that in a champagne bottle! The motor is fueled by ATP.  In the case of bacteriophage lambda, a “decoration” protein called gpD attaches to the outside of the capsid to provide structural support and prevent rupture of the pressurized capsid.  In work described in the article "Packaging of a Unit Length Viral Genome:  The Role of Nucleotides and the gpD Decoration Protein in Stable Nucleocapsid Assembly in Bacteriophage Lambda", J. Mol. Biol., 383(5), 1037-1048.(2008), by Yang, Q., Maluf, N.K., and Catalano, C.E., we examine the role of gpD in stabilizing the DNA-filled capsid. The data demonstrate that packaging of viral DNA "breaks" the capsid when gpD is absent. Our studies also demonstrate, to our surprise, that nucleotides are also required to stabilize the packaged DNA and play a role in virus assembly in addition to fueling the motor.