Functional Characterization and Surface Mapping of Frataxin (FXN) Interactions with the Fe-S Cluster Assembly Complex



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In 1996, scientists discovered a connection between the gene for the human protein frataxin (FXN) and the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich?s ataxia (FRDA). Decreased FXN levels result in a variety of aberrant phenotypes including loss of activity for iron-sulfur containing enzymes, mitochondrial iron accumulation, and susceptibility to oxidative stress. These symptoms are the primary focus of current therapeutic efforts. In contrast our group is pursuing an alternate strategy of first defining FXN function at a molecular level then using this information to identify small molecule functional replacements. Recently, our group has discovered that FXN functions as an allosteric activator for the human Fe-S cluster assembly complex. The work presented here helps to further define molecular details of FXN activation and explain how FRDA missense mutants are functionally compromised. First, the FRDA missense mutants L182H and L182F were investigated. Unlike other characterized FRDA missense mutants, the L182F variant was not compromised in its ability to bind and activate the Fe-S assembly complex. The L182H variant exhibited an altered circular dichroism signature; suggesting a change in secondary structure relative to native FXN, and rapidly degraded. Together these studies suggest that L182 variants are less stable than native FXN and are likely prone to degradation in FRDA patients. Second, as a regulatory role of FXN suggests that its function is likely controlled by environmental stimuli, different maturation forms of FXN as well as post-translational modification mimics were tested as mechanisms to control FXN regulation. Here experiments were designed to test if a larger polypeptide form of FXN represents a functional form of the protein. Kinetic and analytical ultracentrifugation studies revealed a complex heterogeneous mixture of species some of which can activate the Fe-S assembly complex. A previously identified acetylation site was also tested using mutants that mimic acetylation. These mutants had little effect on the ability of FXN to bind and activate the assembly complex. Third, mutagenesis experiments were designed in which the FXN surface residues were replaced with alanine and the resulting variants were tested in binding and activity assays. These experiments revealed a localized ?hot-spot? on the surface of FXN that suggests small cyclic peptide mimics might be able to replace FXN and function as FRDA therapeutics. Unexpectedly, one of the FXN variants exhibited significantly tighter binding and could have relevance for therapeutic development.