Biophysical Probes of Iron Metabolism in Yeast Cells, Mitochondria, and Mouse Brains



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Iron is essential in nearly all organisms. It is a cofactor in many proteins and enzymes. This transition metal can also be toxic because it participates in reactions which produce reactive oxygen species. To avoid these toxic effects while still being used for essential processes, the cell must regulate tightly iron import, metabolism, trafficking, and homeostasis. These processes were studied using biophysical methods centered on Mossbauer spectroscopy supplemented by electron paramagnetic resonance, electronic absorption spectroscopy, and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. This integrated biophysical approach was applied to yeast cells, isolated yeast mitochondria, and mouse brains. We determined the concentration of Fe, and the proportion of that Fe present as iron-sulfur clusters, heme centers, mononuclear nonheme centers, and as Fe3+ oxyhydroxide (phosphate) nanoparticles for each system.

In yeast, the dependence of metabolic mode of growth and iron in the growth medium on this distribution was studied. Approximately three-quarters of the iron in fermenting cells was located in vacuoles, where it was present as high-spin mononuclear Fe3+ species with rhombic symmetry. The remaining quarter was present in the mitochondria. In fermenting mitochondria 4 distinct species of iron were observed, including [Fe4S4]2+ clusters and low-spin Fe2+ hemes arising from respiratory complexes, non-heme high spin (NHHS) Fe2+ species, high spin nonheme Fe3+ species, and nanoparticles. These distributions (in both the cells and mitochondria) change when the cells are grown on iron deficient medium but remained relatively unaltered as iron in the growth medium was increased. Respiring cells had less Fe associated with vacuoles, and more Fe present as HS Fe2+. Respiring mitochondria contain more [Fe4S4]2+ clusters and low-spin Fe2+ hemes, more S = 1/2 [Fe2S2]1+ clusters, and less NHHS Fe2+, HS Fe3+ species and Fe3+ nanoparticles. These changes were rationalized by assuming that the NHHS Fe2+ and Fe3+ species, and the nanoparticles were in equilibrium within the matrix of the mitochondria, and that the Fe2+ species served as feedstock for the synthesis of iron-sulfur clusters and heme centers.

The iron in the mouse brain consisted mostly of [Fe4S4]2+ clusters and Fe2+ hemes from mitochondria respiratory complexes, and of ferritin, an Fe storage protein complex. NHHS Fe2+ and Fe3+ species were also observed. The ratio of stored Fe to mitochondrial Fe was sensitive to age. The brains of prenatal animals were dominated by ferritin. Following birth up to the first 4 weeks of life, there was an increase in mitochondrial Fe and a decline of ferritin Fe. Beyond 4 weeks up to 58 weeks, levels of ferritin increased and mitochondrial Fe remained constant. The brains of mice fed an Fe-deficient diet were also studied; most of the Fe in these brains was present as mitochondrial Fe, with little stored as ferritin. A model was developed to explain these changes.