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Increasing evidence suggests that IscS, a cysteine desulfurase, provides sulfur for assembly of transient iron-sulfur clusters in IscU. IscU appears to act as a scaffold and eventually transfers the assembled clusters to target proteins. However, the iron donor for the iron-sulfur cluster assembly largely remains elusive. Here we find that Escherichia coli IscU fails to assemble iron-sulfur clusters when the accessible "free" iron in solution is limited by an iron chelator sodium citrate. Remarkably, IscA, an iron-sulfur cluster assembly protein with an iron association constant of 3.0 × 1019 M-1, is able to overcome the iron limitation due to sodium citrate and deliver iron for the IscS-mediated iron-sulfur cluster-assembly in IscU. Substitution of the invariant cysteine residues Cys-99 or Cys-101 in IscA with serine completely abolishes the iron binding activity of the protein. The IscA mutants that fail to bind iron are unable to mediate iron delivery for the iron-sulfur cluster assembly in IscU under the limited accessible "free" iron conditions. The results suggest that IscA is capable of recruiting intracellular iron and providing iron for the iron-sulfur cluster assembly in IscU in cells in which the accessible "free" iron content is probably restricted.

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Journal of Biological Chemistry

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