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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jan 10;109(2):454-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1114372109. Epub 2011 Dec 27.

Disordered form of the scaffold protein IscU is the substrate for iron-sulfur cluster assembly on cysteine desulfurase.

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  • 1Graduate Program in Biophysics, Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


The scaffold protein for iron-sulfur cluster assembly, apo-IscU, populates two interconverting conformational states, one disordered (D) and one structured (S) as revealed by extensive NMR assignments. At pH 8 and 25 °C, approximately 70% of the protein is S, and the lifetimes of the states are 1.3 s (S) and 0.50 s (D). Zn(II) and Fe(II) each bind and stabilize structured (S-like) states. Single amino acid substitutions at conserved residues were found that shift the equilibrium toward either the S or the D state. Cluster assembly takes place in the complex between IscU and the cysteine desulfurase, IscS, and our NMR studies demonstrate that IscS binds preferentially the D form of apo-IscU. The addition of 10% IscS to IscU was found to greatly increase H/D exchange at protected amides of IscU, to increase the rate of the S → D reaction, and to decrease the rate of the D → S reaction. In the saturated IscU:IscS complex, IscU is largely disordered. In vitro cluster assembly reactions provided evidence for the functional importance of the S&lrarr2;D equilibrium. IscU variants that favor the S state were found to undergo a lag phase, not observed with the wild type, that delayed cluster assembly; variants that favor the D state were found to assemble less stable clusters at an intermediate rate without the lag. It appears that IscU has evolved to exist in a disordered conformational state that is the initial substrate for the desulfurase and to convert to a structured state that stabilizes the cluster once it is assembled.

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