With sadness and sorrow, I mourn for Prof. Umberto Bertazzoni who passed away on Sunday July 5, 2020 at the age of 82. Umberto leaves behind his wife Maria Rosa, the daughters Giovanna and Paola, and a son Lorenzo.
Although he was on retirement from his chair of full professor of Molecular Biology at the School of Medicine of the University of Verona since 2010, Umberto continued to perform active research in strict collaboration with his latter colleagues, particularly with Maria Grazia Romanelli, associate professor at the same university, and with many others, including myself.
The long research career of Umberto started in 1960 as graduate student at the Institute of Biochemistry of the University of Pavia, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Italy, where he obtained the double degree first in Farmacy and subsequently in Biological Sciences.
From 1963-1964 Umberto was post-doctoral fellow at the State University of Iowa, Iowa City , USA, where he became interested on the mechanism of DNA replication and repair and on terminal transferase in human lymphoblastoid cells (1), fields that he pursued up to late 70s and the early 80s (2,3) and that led him to progressively become interested in retrovirus reverse transcriptase (4). Indeed, since 1988 Umberto focused his attention on human retroviruses. His research group made substantial contributions in the identification and molecular characterization of Human T-Cell Leukemia Viruses HTLV-1 and HTLV-2, particularly in the structure and function of Tax proteins of HTLVs and their interaction with cellular factors, and in the comparison of genetic organization, expression strategies and oncogenic potential of HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 (5-8). Of particular relevance were also Umberto’s studies on cohorts of patients co-infected by HIV-1 and HTLV-2 in which he showed that the simultaneous infection with HTLV-2 could have an inhibitory effect on the progression toward AIDS (9-11).
The commitment of Umberto to the advancement of Science was manifested not only as an active researcher but also as a coordinator of scientific policies in international institutions, particularly in the European Commission where he served as Scientific Officer at the Biological Laboratories of the Joint Research Center at Ispra, Italy from 1966 to 1971, and in Brussels as EC Principal Scientific Officer for Research, Training and Mobility of Researchers (1995-1996) first, followed by his duty as EC Head of Unit of Medical research and Infectious Diseases in Directorate General (1997-2000).
Last, but not least, Umberto was among the founder members of HERN (HTLV European Research Network) in 1993 as a European Community-funded Concerted Action to facilitate collaboration between researchers in the EU working on all aspects of HTLV infection, from molecular virology to clinical trials.
Umberto was an adorable person, always enthusiast and full of energy in all activities he was involved in. Lover of sports, particularly skiing and cycling (only few years ago he was still climbing by bicycle the tremendous “Stelvio”, a mountain route famous in Italy for being an important step of the Giro d’Italia). Enthusiasm and energy that was contagious for all people around him and particularly for his younger scientific collaborators. He leaves us with a scientific and ethical legacy that will last forever.
Roberto S. Accolla
2. Bertazzoni U, Stefanini M, Noy GP, Giulotto E, Nuzzo F, Falaschi A, Spadari S. Variations of DNA polymerase-alpha and -beta during prolonged stimulation of human lymphocytes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1976 Mar;73(3):785-9.
3. Bertazzoni U, Brusamolino E, Isernia P, Scovassi AI, Torsello S, Lazzarino M, Bernasconi C. Prognostic significance of terminal transferase and adenosine deaminase in acute and chronic myeloid leukemia. Blood 1982 Sep;60(3):685-92.
4. Lori F, Scovassi AI, Zella D, Achilli G, Cattaneo E, Casoli C, Bertazzoni U. Enzymatically active forms of reverse transcriptase of the human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 1988 Oct;4(5):393-8.
5. Bertazzoni U, Turci M, Avesani F, Di Gennaro G, Bidoia C, Romanelli MG. Intracellular localization and cellular factors interaction of HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 Tax proteins: similarities and functional differences. Viruses. 2011 May;3(5):541-60.
6. Tosi G, Forlani G, Andresen V, Turci M, Bertazzoni U, Franchini G, Poli G, Accolla RS. Major histocompatibility complex class II transactivator CIITA is a viral restriction factor that targets human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 Tax-1 function and inhibits viral replication. J Virol. 2011 Oct;85(20):10719-29.
7. TRAF3 Is Required for NF-κB Pathway Activation Mediated by HTLV Tax Proteins. Fochi S, Bergamo E, Serena M, Mutascio S, Journo C, Mahieux R, Ciminale V, Bertazzoni U, Zipeto D, Romanelli MG. Front Microbiol. 2019 Jun 12;10:1302.
8. Salemi M, Vandamme AM, Gradozzi C, Van Laethem K, Cattaneo E, Taylor G, Casoli C, Goubau P, Desmyter J, Bertazzoni U. Evolutionary rate and genetic heterogeneity of human T-cell lymphotropic virus type II (HTLV-II) using isolates from European injecting drug users. J Mol Evol. 1998 May;46(5):602-11..
9. Zella D, Mori L, Sala M, Ferrante P, Casoli C, Magnani G, Achilli G, Cattaneo E, Lori F, Bertazzoni U. HTLV-II infection in Italian drug abusers. Lancet. 1990 Sep 1;336(8714):575-6.
10. Turci M, Pilotti E, Ronzi P, Magnani G, Boschini A, Parisi SG, Zipeto D, Lisa A, Casoli C, Bertazzoni U. Coinfection with HIV-1 and human T-Cell lymphotropic virus type II in intravenous drug users is associated with delayed progression to AIDS. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2006 Jan 1;41(1):100-6.
11. Casoli C, Pilotti E, Bertazzoni U. Molecular and cellular interactions of HIV-1/HTLV coinfection and impact on AIDS progression. AIDS Rev. 2007 Jul-Sep;9(3):140-9.