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J Mol Biol. 2003 Aug 22;331(4):907-24.

Thermotoga maritima IscU. Structural characterization and dynamics of a new class of metallochaperone.

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Magnetic Resonance Center, University of Florence, Via L. Sacconi, 6-50019 Sesto Fiorentino, Italy.


Members of the IscU family of proteins are among the most conserved of all protein groups, extending across all three kingdoms of life. IscU serves as a scaffold for the assembly of intermediate iron-sulfur cluster centers and further mediates delivery to apo protein targets. Several proteins that mediate delivery of single metal ions to apo targets (termed metallochaperones) have recently been characterized structurally. Each displays a ferredoxin-like betaalphabetabetaalphabeta motif as a structural core. Assembly and delivery of a polynuclear iron-sulfur cluster is, however, a more complex pathway and presumably would demand a distinctive protein mediator. Here, we demonstrate Thermotoga maritima IscU (Tm IscU) to display unique structural and motional characteristics that distinguish it from other members of this class of proteins. In particular, IscU adopts a mobile, physiologically relevant, molten globule-like state that is vastly different from the previously identified ferredoxin-like fold that has thus far been characterized for other metallochaperones. The secondary structural content of Tm IscU is consistent with previous circular dichroism measurements on apo and holo protein, consisting of six alpha-helices and three beta-strands, the latter forming an anti-parallel beta-sheet. Extensive dynamics studies are consistent with a protein that has reasonably well defined secondary structural elements, but with a tertiary structure that is fluxional among widely different conformational arrangements. Analogous conformational flexibility does not exist in other structurally characterized metallochaperones; however, such a dynamic molecule may account for the lack of long-range NOEs, and allow both for the flexibility that is necessary for the multiple roles of Fe-S cluster assembly, and recognition and delivery of that cluster to a target protein. Additionally, the fluxionality of IscU is unique in that the protein appears to be more compact (based on 1H/2H exchange, R1, R2, and NOE data) but yet more fluid (lack of long-range NOEs) than typical molten globule proteins.

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