Assembly and iron-binding properties of human frataxin, the protein dificient in Friedreich ataxia

Patrizia Cavadini, Heather A. O'Neill, Oldrich Benada, Grazia Isaya

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167 Scopus citations


Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive degenerative disease caused by a deficiency of frataxin, a conserved mitochondrial protein of unknown function. Mitochondrial iron accumulation, loss of iron-sulfur cluster-containing enzymes and increased oxidative damage occur in yeast and mouse frataxin-depleted mutants as well as tissues and cell lines from FRDA patients, suggesting that frataxin may be involved in export of iron from the mitochondria, synthesis of iron-sulfur clusters and/or protection from oxidative damage. We have previously shown that yeast frataxin has structural and functional features of an iron storage protein. In this study we have investigated the function of human frataxin in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. When expressed in E.coli, the mature form of human frataxin assembles into a stable homopolymer that can bind approximately 10 atoms of iron per molecule of frataxin. The iron-loaded homopolymer can be detected on non-denaturing gels by either protein or iron staining demonstrating a stable association between frataxin and iron. As analyzed by gel filtration and electron microscopy, the homopolymer consists of globular particles of ∼1 MDa and ordered rod-shaped polymers of these particles that accumulate small electron-dense cores. When the human frataxin precursor is expressed in S.cerevisiae, the mitochondrially generated mature form is separated by gel filtration into monomer and a high molecular weight pool of >600 kDa. A high molecular weight pool of frataxin is also present in mouse heart indicating that frataxin can assemble under native conditions. In radiolabeled yeast cells, human frataxin is recovered by immunoprecipitation with approximately five atoms of 55Fe bound per molecule. These findings suggest that FRDA results from decreased mitochondrial iron storage due to frataxin deficiency which may impair iron metabolism, promote oxidative damage and lead to progressive iron accumulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
JournalHuman molecular genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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