Mechanism of activation of the human cysteine desulfurase complex by frataxin
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
The function of frataxin (FXN) has garnered great scientific interest since its depletion was linked to the incurable neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA). FXN has been shown to be necessary for iron-sulfur (Fe-S) cluster biosynthesis and proper mitochondrial function. The structural and functional core of the Fe-S cluster assembly complex is a low-activity pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP)–dependent cysteine desulfurase enzyme that consists of catalytic (NFS1), LYRM protein (ISD11),
... and acyl carrier protein (ACP) subunits. Although previous studies show that FXN stimulates the activity of this assembly complex, the mechanism of FXN activation is poorly understood. Here, we develop a radiolabeling assay and use stopped-flow kinetics to establish that FXN is functionally linked to the mobile S-transfer loop cysteine of NFS1. Our results support key roles for this essential cysteine residue in substrate binding, as a general acid to advance the Cys-quinonoid PLP intermediate, as a nucleophile to form an NFS1 persulfide, and as a sulfur delivery agent to generate a persulfide species on the Fe-S scaffold protein ISCU2. FXN specifically accelerates each of these individual steps in the mechanism. Our resulting architectural switch model explains why the human Fe-S assembly system has low inherent activity and requires activation, the connection between the functional mobile S-transfer loop cysteine and FXN binding, and why the prokaryotic system does not require a similar FXN-based activation. Together, these results provide mechanistic insights into the allosteric-activator role of FXN and suggest new strategies to replace FXN function in the treatment of FRDA.