Human frataxin activates Fe-S cluster biosynthesis by facilitating sulfur transfer chemistry. Academic Article uri icon


  • Iron-sulfur clusters are ubiquitous protein cofactors with critical cellular functions. The mitochondrial Fe-S assembly complex, which consists of the cysteine desulfurase NFS1 and its accessory protein (ISD11), the Fe-S assembly protein (ISCU2), and frataxin (FXN), converts substrates l-cysteine, ferrous iron, and electrons into Fe-S clusters. The physiological function of FXN has received a tremendous amount of attention since the discovery that its loss is directly linked to the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia. Previous in vitro results revealed a role for human FXN in activating the cysteine desulfurase and Fe-S cluster biosynthesis activities of the Fe-S assembly complex. Here we present radiolabeling experiments that indicate FXN accelerates the accumulation of sulfur on ISCU2 and that the resulting persulfide species is viable in the subsequent synthesis of Fe-S clusters. Additional mutagenesis, enzyme kinetic, UV-visible, and circular dichroism spectroscopic studies suggest conserved ISCU2 residue C104 is critical for FXN activation, whereas C35, C61, and C104 are all essential for Fe-S cluster formation on the assembly complex. These results cannot be fully explained by the hypothesis that FXN functions as an iron donor for Fe-S cluster biosynthesis, and further support an allosteric regulator role for FXN. Together, these results lead to an activation model in which FXN accelerates persulfide formation on NFS1 and favors a helix-to-coil interconversion on ISCU2 that facilitates the transfer of sulfur from NFS1 to ISCU2 as an initial step in Fe-S cluster biosynthesis.

published proceedings

  • Biochemistry

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Bridwell-Rabb, J., Fox, N. G., Tsai, C., Winn, A. M., & Barondeau, D. P

citation count

  • 114

complete list of authors

  • Bridwell-Rabb, Jennifer||Fox, Nicholas G||Tsai, Chi-Lin||Winn, Andrew M||Barondeau, David P

publication date

  • July 2014