Work over the past two decades has uncovered the biogenesis of cellular iron-sulfur (Fe/S) proteins as the essential and minimal function of mitochondria. This process is catalyzed by the bacteria-derived iron-sulfur cluster assembly (ISC) machinery and has been dissected into three major steps: de novo synthesis of a [2Fe-2S] cluster on a scaffold protein; Hsp70 chaperone-mediated trafficking of the cluster and insertion into [2Fe-2S] target apoproteins; and catalytic conversion of the [2Fe-2S] into a [4Fe-4S] cluster and subsequent insertion into recipient apoproteins. ISC components of the first two steps are also required for biogenesis of numerous essential cytosolic and nuclear Fe/S proteins, explaining the essentiality of mitochondria. This review summarizes the molecular mechanisms underlying the ISC protein-mediated maturation of mitochondrial Fe/S proteins and the importance for human disease.
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