Assembly of the iron-binding protein frataxin in Saccharomyces cerevisiae responds to dynamic changes in mitochondrial iron influx and stress level

Oleksandr Gakh, Douglas Y. Smith IV, Grazia Isaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


Defects in frataxin result in Friedreich ataxia, a genetic disease characterized by early onset of neurodegeneration, cardiomyopathy, and diabetes. Frataxin is a conserved mitochondrial protein that controls iron needed for iron-sulfur cluster assembly and heme synthesis and also detoxifies excess iron. Studies in vitro have shown that either monomeric or oligomeric frataxin delivers iron to other proteins, whereas ferritin-like frataxin particles convert redox-active iron to an inert mineral. We have investigated how these different forms of frataxin are regulated in vivo. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, only monomeric yeast frataxin (Yfh1) was detected in unstressed cells when mitochondrial iron uptake was maintained at a steady, low nanomolar level. Increments in mitochondrial iron uptake induced stepwise assembly of Yfh1 species ranging from trimer to ≥24-mer, independent of interactions between Yfh1 and its major iron-binding partners, Isu1/Nfs1 or aconitase. The rate-limiting step in Yfh1 assembly was a structural transition that preceded conversion of monomer to trimer. This step was induced, independently or synergistically, by mitochondrial iron increments, overexpression of wild type Yfh1 monomer, mutations that stabilize Yfh1 trimer, or heat stress. Faster assembly kinetics correlated with reduced oxidative damage and higher levels of aconitase activity, respiratory capacity, and cell survival. However, deregulation of Yfh1 assembly resulted in Yfh1 aggregation, aconitase sequestration, and mitochondrial DNA depletion. The data suggest that Yfh1 assembly responds to dynamic changes in mitochondrial iron uptake or stress exposure in a highly controlled fashion and that this may enable frataxin to simultaneously promote respiratory function and stress tolerance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31500-31510
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 14 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

Cite this