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Hum Mol Genet. 2003 Jul 15;12(14):1699-711.

Decreased expression of genes involved in sulfur amino acid metabolism in frataxin-deficient cells.

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Department of Molecular Biosciences, 1311 Haring Hall, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Inherited deficiency of the mitochondrial protein frataxin causes neural and cardiac cell degeneration, and Friedreich's ataxia. Five hypotheses for frataxin's mitochondrial function have been generated, largely from work in non-human cells: iron transporter, iron-sulfur cluster assembler, iron-storage protein, antioxidant and stimulator of oxidative phosphorylation. We analyzed gene expression in three human cell types using microarrays, and identified just 48 transcripts whose expression was significantly frataxin-dependent in at least two cell types. Significant decreases in seven transcripts occurred in the sulfur amino acid (SAA) biosynthetic pathway and the iron-sulfur cluster (ISC) biosynthetic pathway to which it is connected. By contrast, we did not observe a single frataxin-dependent transcript that fits with the other four current hypotheses. Quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR analysis of ISC-S and rhodanese transcripts confirmed that the expression of these genes involved in ISC metabolism was lower in mutants. Amino acid analysis confirmed the defect in SAA metabolism: homocystine, cysteine, cystathionine and serine were significantly decreased in frataxin-deficient cell extracts and mitochondria. An ISC defect was further confirmed by observing decreases in succinate dehydrogenase and aconitase activities, whose activities require ISCs. The ISC-U scaffold protein was specifically decreased in frataxin-deficient cells, suggesting a role for frataxin in its expression or maintenance, and sodium sulfide partially rescued the oxidant-sensitivity of the FRDA cells. Also, multiple transcripts involved in the Fas/TNF/INF apoptosis pathway were up-regulated in frataxin-deficient cells, consistent with a multi-step mechanism of Friedreich's ataxia pathophysiology, and suggesting alternative possibilities for therapeutic intervention.

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