Cfr is a radical S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) RNA methylase linked to multidrug antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens. It catalyzes a chemically challenging C-C bond-forming reaction to methylate C8 of A2503 (Escherichia coli numbering) of 23S rRNA during ribosome assembly. The cfr gene has been identified as a mobile genetic element in diverse bacteria and in the genome of select Bacillales and Clostridiales species. Despite the importance of Cfr, few representatives have been purified and characterized in vitro. Here we show that Cfr homologues from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Enterococcus faecalis, Paenibacillus lautus, and Clostridioides difficile act as C8 adenine RNA methylases in biochemical assays. C. difficile Cfr contains an additional Cys-rich C-terminal domain that binds a mononuclear Fe2+ ion in a rubredoxin-type Cys4 motif. The C-terminal domain can be truncated with minimal impact on C. difficile Cfr activity, but the rate of turnover is decreased upon disruption of the Fe2+-binding site by Zn2+ substitution or ligand mutation. These findings indicate an important purpose for the observed C-terminal iron in the native fusion protein. Bioinformatic analysis of the C. difficile Cfr Cys-rich domain shows that it is widespread (-1400 homologues) as a stand-alone gene in pathogenic or commensal Bacilli and Clostridia, with >10% encoded adjacent to a predicted radical SAM RNA methylase. Although the domain is not essential for in vitro C. difficile Cfr activity, the genomic co-occurrence and high abundance in the human microbiome suggest a possible functional role for a specialized rubredoxin in certain radical SAM RNA methylases that are relevant to human health.
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