Biogenesis of iron–sulfur clusters requires a concerted delivery of iron and sulfur to target proteins. It is now clear that sulfur in iron–sulfur clusters is derived from L-cysteine via cysteine desulfurases. However, the specific iron donor for the iron–sulfur cluster assembly still remains elusive. Previous studies showed that IscA, a member of the iron–sulfur cluster assembly machinery in Escherichia coli, is a novel iron-binding protein, and that the iron-bound IscA can provide iron for the iron–sulfur cluster assembly in a proposed scaffold IscU in vitro. However, genetic studies have indicated that IscA is not essential for the cell growth of E. coli. In the present paper, we report that SufA, an IscA paralogue in E. coli, may represent the redundant activity of IscA. Although deletion of IscA or SufA has only a mild effect on cell growth, deletion of both IscA and SufA in E. coli results in a severe growth phenotype in minimal medium under aerobic growth conditions. Cell growth is restored when either IscA or SufA is re-introduced into the iscA/sufA double mutant, demonstrating further that either IscA or SufA is sufficient for their functions in vivo. Purified SufA, like IscA, is an iron-binding protein that can provide iron for the iron–sulfur cluster assembly in IscU in the presence of a thioredoxin reductase system which emulates the intracellular redox potential. Site-directed mutagenesis studies show that the SufA/IscA variants that lose the specific iron-binding activity fail to restore the cell growth of the iscA/sufA double mutant. The results suggest that SufA and IscA may constitute the redundant cellular activities to recruit intracellular iron and deliver iron for the iron–sulfur cluster assembly in E. coli.

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