Iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells is known to be mediated by two highly conserved proteins, termed IscS and IscU in prokaryotes. The homodimeric IscS protein has been shown to be a cysteine desulfurase that catalyzes the reductive conversion of cysteine to alanine and sulfide. In this work, the time course of IscS-mediated Fe-S cluster assembly in IscU was monitored via anaerobic anion exchange chromatography. The nature and properties of the clusters assembled in discrete fractions were assessed via analytical studies together with absorption, resonance Raman, and Mossbauer investigations. The results show sequential cluster assembly with the initial IscU product containing one [2Fe- 2S]2+ cluster per dimer converting first to a form containing two [2Fe-2S]2+ clusters per dimer and finally to a form that contains one [4Fe-4S]2+ cluster per dimer. Both the [2Fe- 2S]2+ and [4Fe-4S]2+ clusters in IscU are reductively labile and are degraded within minutes upon being exposed to air. On the basis of sequence considerations and spectroscopic studies, the [2Fe-2S]2+ clusters in IscU are shown to have incomplete cysteinyl ligation. In addition, the resonance Raman spectrum of the [4Fe-4S]2+ cluster in IscU is best interpreted in terms of noncysteinyl ligation at a unique Fe site. The ability to assemble both [2Fe-2S]2+ and [4Fe-4S]2+ clusters in IscU supports the proposal that this ubiquitous protein provides a scaffold for IscS-mediated assembly of clusters that are subsequently used for maturation of apo Fe-S proteins.
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