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Tribute to Prof. Guido Tarone


Guido Tarone

Guido Tarone

Guido left us on May 17 2015 at age 63. A trivial bike accident took him away too soon from his beloved family, his students, his colleagues. When a feeling of premature loss overwhelms, keeping his memory alive, catching his torch and continuing his marathon are a binding duty.
Guido started his career as a cell biologist and was among the first to grasp the concept that cells do not simply adhere to surfaces in a passive way but that they use specific intermolecular bridges to connect to the extracellular environment. One of his major achievements was the identification of specific subcellular structures on the membrane of adhering cells that mediate the association with extracellular proteins, secreted by cells to form the extracellular matrix. Together with one of his mentors, Pier Carlo Marchisio, he named these structures “podosomes”, a term that entered the cell biology slang and a concept that still describes how most cells contact extracellular matrix. Later on he started to conceive that molecules inside podosomes must be regulating cell adhesion. He was particularly excited about the idea that regulated cell adhesion could explain crucial cell biology concepts but could also represent the key to interpret multiple pathophysiological mechanisms ranging from mechanical stress sensing to metastatic colonization. He hence fully embarked in the characterization and study of integrins, the cell surface receptors that bridge the cytoplasm to extracellular matrix components. By studying how integrins influence cellular responses, he came across the concept of signal transduction and rapidly contributed to the idea that integrins are not just a sort of cellular glue but that they actively inform the cell about its position and its extracellular environment. Together with Paola Defilippi he showed that integrins cooperate with growth factors receptors to instruct cells about when to proliferate. It is by studying how integrins transduce intracellular modifications that he stumbled on a series of splice variants of the 1 integrin subunit that are specifically expressed in striated muscles. Rapidly this led to the discovery, together with Mara Brancaccio, of a specific interactor for this splice variant that was uniquely expressed by striated muscles. Most of the late Guido’s work had been dedicated to this mysterious molecule that he and Mara named Melusin, after the main character of a fairy tale, traditional in his beloved Alps surrounding the French-Italian border. I vividly remember, when in front of the quandary of whether studying Melusin in either skeletal or cardiac muscle, he had no hesitation: he immediately went for the heart, much more fascinating and fertile for molecular and cellular biology approaches but also more demanding in terms of innovative treatments, especially in view of the lack of therapeutic options in heart failure. This crucial decision let him discover that Melusin is a chaperon protein controlling protein stability under mechanical stress and that, when overexpressed in cardiomyocytes, it protects against heart failure due to different causes ranging from pressure overload to congenital heart disease driven by protein misfolding. His dream was to treat heart failure with gene therapy transducing Melusin expression and promising indications are as yet arising.

His inspiring attitude towards science assures that his thoughts will be pursued. During his career he inspired, formed and influenced countless researchers in a country where science and research are not that trendy. His personality left a strong imprint as well: Guido was not only a talented scientist, he was also a person with exquisite gentle manners and great humanity. He will be remembered for his warmth and for his kind, open mood that, while appearing naïve at a superficial impression, was conversely profound and sophisticated. I had been working on his side for almost 30 years and after such a long time of close interaction, first as a student and then as a colleague, I realize in sorrow how much I learned from him. He showed me how science requires inspiration and excitement but also independence of thought. He taught me that fashion and conventional thinking can heavily influence the course of research but that disinterested, genuine dedication to a scientific problem is the only way to solid and trustful results. He inspired me to be open and communicative, to accept that science requires debate and that nothing has to be taken for granted. He showed me how a leader should behave, with light touch but decisive and unbreakable determination. He taught me that being a scientist as well as a husband and father can and have to be compatible. Guido is survived by an army of disciples and by his beloved wife Fiorella and his son Enrico with whom I share the grief.

Emilio Hirsch

Denise Hilfiker-Keiner: I remember Guido as an excellent scientist and a very kind and gentle person. My first recognition of Guido's work goes back to his famous paper "Melusin, a muscle-specific integrin beta1-interacting protein, is required to prevent cardiac failure in response to chronic pressure overload" published in Nat. Med 2003. With this work he pioneered together with Ken Chien our understanding how the heart sensitizes mechanical strain and thereby provided first evidence how interaction of cardiac muscle cells with the extracellular matrix could become novel therapeutic targets.  Soon after Guido became an integral member of the small European community of true basic scientists that entered the field of translational science in cardiology.  He was associated to the FP6 EU network “EUGeneHeart” coordinated by Gerd Hasenfuss and, together with his group in Torino,  was one of the key partners to enthusiastically promote interactions and cooperation between the participating European groups. Many colleagues, in and outside of the network, had the pleasure and privilege to visit Guido’s new research facilities at MBC in Torino where he would always kindly introduce the visitors to many of his collaborators and explain ongoing projects and new technologies. He organized one of the yearly meetings of EUGeneHeart in Torino, where everyone fondly remembers his great hospitality. 

In the early days Guido was invited to present his work at the annual meeting of the working group on myocardial function taking place at that time in Isola 2000, a ski resort in South of France. Guido as excellent scientist and skier became soon attached to our small WG. He was one of the few scientist who stayed with the WG even in the difficult times with little funding and small self-supported meetings. He contributed substantially to the survival and the revival of our group and with that of the idea in combining friendship and science in powerful network aiming specifically to bring our young colleagues forward. Guido contributed substantially to ESC and HFA activities, he initiated and contributed to position papers, summer schools, workshops etc and finally was elected as Chair of the WG on myocardial function taking office in at the ESC meeting in 2014. Guido organized the 2015 annual meeting of the WG on myocardial function together with HFA and the WG on Cell biology in Varenna just two weeks ago.

It was a great meeting with a completely new format giving a lot of room to young scientists. It feels like yesterday that we all sat together in dining room of the Hotel Villa Cipressi listening to Guido's dinner speach enjoying all each other’s company. It is a great tragedy now to write this lines, knowning that it will never be the same because one of us is missing. We will never forget Guido, he lives on in our hearts.  


Gabriele Tocchetti: The sudden news of the demise of Guido Tarone was an incredible shock to me. Two days earlier, I had just contacted him to tell him that one of my clinical fellows intended to join the WG on Myocardial Function…we had just spoken on recruiting young scientist a few days before, at the Varenna meeting…
I first met Guido at the HFA Winter Meeting in Garmisch in 2006, along with many great scientists (but, above all, great people) that have become a sort of a scientific family, to me. I had just finished my post-doctoral experience in Baltimore, and my return to Europe was really thanks to the interaction with the Nucleus Members of the WG on Myocardial Function. As an early-career researcher, I was very honored that I could be collaborating with him on one of his melusin very novel projects. Guido was very inspiring, and very open towards young scientists, and he definitely exerted a major contribution in my scientific growth. After he was appointed Chairman of the Working Group, I extremely gladly helped him with anything he might need, and we interacted on a weekly basis. I still recall nice chats both on the phone and when we had a chance to meet, in Italy and abroad. Guido was not only an extremely bright scientist, but an incredibly friendly person. I will definitely miss him.

Adelino Leite Moreira: My personal relationship with Guido goes back over ten years and was, from the very start, marked not only by his incandescent charisma but also by our assured mutual respect and fervorous scientific discussion sparked by our mutual interests. Thus, his sudden parting deeply saddens me and leaves a void only a colleague with his level of warmth and competence could fill. I look back fondly on the scientific oeuvre we built together and the legacy he left to both the institutes we shared and the scientific community at large. I will never forget him as a great mind and a great person.

Jean-Luc Balligand: It is so painful to think that today is Guido's funeral...We just had such great moments together, discussing science, on the ski slopes, just recently enjoying the WG meeting in Varenna... Guido sometimes liked to tell the story of our first encounter: it was in the surroundings of a remote castle in the middle of Germany, it was dark and Guido and some italian colleagues had lost their way, and were discussing in their own language how and to whom they could ask for directions; Guido saw me approaching and asked me in perfect English if I could help; I will never forget his astonished face when I gave him the directions in Italian; later he would always remind this episode by pointing, with an amused and sparkling eye, to the extremely low probability of receiving an answer in his own language in such situation. We all will find ourselves in the dark at some point, ultimately; when my turn comes, I wish I run into Guido as my guide...    

ESC Working Group on Cellular Biology of the Heart:

“Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno…”, A. Manzoni, I promessi Sposi.

Su quel ramo del Lago di Como che bagna Varenna ti abbiamo incontrato per l’ultima volta e lì abbiamo condiviso momenti di amicizia e di scienza, quella scienza che tu hai saputo attirare attraverso l’organizzazione dei tre giorni di incontri fra il nostro ed il tuo Gruppo di Lavoro.
Noi ti ricorderemo per sempre, caro Guido, collega ineguagliabile, con stima e profondo affetto.

On the branch of the lake Como surrounding Varenna we met you for the last time, and there we shared moments of friendship and science, the science that you have been able to attract during the three days of meetings between our and your Working Group.
We will always remember you, dear Guido, incomparable colleague, with esteem and deep affection.