Frataxins form an interesting family of iron-binding proteins with an almost unique fold and are highly conserved from bacteria to primates. They have a pivotal role in iron-sulfur cluster biogenesis as regulators of the rates of cluster formation, as it is testified by the fact that frataxin absence is incompatible with life and reduced levels of the protein lead to the recessive neurodegenerative disease Friedreich's ataxia. Despite its importance, the structure of frataxin has been solved only from relatively few species. Here, this group discusses the X-ray structure of frataxin from the thermophilic fungus Chaetomium thermophilum, and the characterization of its interactions and dynamics in solution. They show that this eukaryotic frataxin has an unusual variation of the classical frataxin fold: the last helix is shorter than in other frataxins which results in a less symmetrical and compact structure. The stability of this protein is comparable to that of human frataxin, currently the most stable amongst the frataxin orthologues. They also characterized the iron-binding mode of C. thermophilum frataxin and demonstrated that it binds it through a semi-conserved negatively charged ridge on the first helix and beta-strand. Moreover, this frataxin is also able to bind the bacterial ortholog of the desulfurase, which is central in iron-sulfur cluster synthesis, and act as its inhibitor.
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