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Evolution of an Iron-Detoxifying Protein: Eukaryotic and Rickettsia Frataxins Contain a Conserved Site Which Is Not Present in Their Bacterial Homologues

Frataxin homologues, including bacterial CyaY proteins, can be found in most species and play a fundamental role in mitochondrial iron homeostasis, either promoting iron assembly into metaloproteins or contributing to iron detoxification. While several lines of evidence suggest that eukaryotic frataxins are more effective than bacterial ones in iron detoxification, the residues involved in this gain of function are unknown. In this work, the authors analyze conservation of amino acid sequence and protein structure among frataxins and CyaY proteins to identify four highly conserved residue clusters and group them into potential functional clusters. Clusters 1, 2, and 4 are present in eukaryotic frataxins and bacterial CyaY proteins. Cluster 3, containing two serines, a tyrosine, and a glutamate, is only present in eukaryotic frataxins and on CyaY proteins from the Rickettsia genus. Residues from cluster 3 are blocking a small cavity of about 40 Å present in E. coli's CyaY. The function of this cluster is unknown, but we hypothesize that its tyrosine may contribute to prevent formation of reactive oxygen species during iron detoxification. This cluster provides an example of gain of function during evolution in a protein involved in iron homeostasis, as these results suggests that Cluster 3 was present in the endosymbiont ancestor of mitochondria and was conserved in eukaryotic frataxins.

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