Molecular Mechanism of ISC Iron-Sulfur Cluster Biogenesis Revealed by High-Resolution Native Mass Spectrometry.
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Iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters are ubiquitous protein cofactors that are required for many important biological processes including oxidative respiration, nitrogen fixation, and photosynthesis. Biosynthetic pathways assemble Fe-S clusters with different iron-to-sulfur stoichiometries and distribute these clusters to appropriate apoproteins. In the ISC pathway, the pyridoxal 5'-phosphate-dependent cysteine desulfurase enzyme IscS provides sulfur to the scaffold protein IscU, which templates the Fe-S cluster assembly. Despite their functional importance, mechanistic details for cluster synthesis have remained elusive. Recent advances in native mass spectrometry (MS) have allowed proteins to be preserved in native-like structures and support applications in the investigation of protein structure, dynamics, ligand interactions, and the identification of protein-associated intermediates. Here, we prepared samples under anaerobic conditions and then applied native MS to investigate the molecular mechanism for Fe-S cluster synthesis. This approach was validated by the high agreement between native MS and traditional visible circular dichroism spectroscopic assays. Time-dependent native MS experiments revealed potential iron- and sulfur-based intermediates that decay as the [2Fe-2S] cluster signal developed. Additional experiments establish that (i) Zn(II) binding stabilizes IscU and protects the cysteine residues from oxidation, weakens the interactions between IscU and IscS, and inhibits Fe-S cluster biosynthesis; and (ii) Fe(II) ions bind to the IscU active site cysteine residues and another lower affinity binding site and promote the intermolecular sulfur transfer reaction from IscS to IscU. Overall, these results support an iron-first model for Fe-S cluster synthesis and highlight the power of native MS in defining protein-associated intermediates and elucidating mechanistic details of enzymatic processes.