Friedreich's ataxia is a hereditary neurodegenerative disease caused by reduced expression of mitochondrial frataxin. Frataxin deficiency causes impairment in respiratory capacity, disruption of iron homoeostasis and hypersensitivity to oxidants. Although the redox properties of NAD (NAD+ and NADH) are essential for energy metabolism, only few results are available concerning homoeostasis of these nucleotides in frataxin-deficient cells. In the present study, we show that the malate–aspartate NADH shuttle is impaired in Saccharomyces cerevisiae frataxin-deficient cells (Δyfh1) due to decreased activity of cytosolic and mitochondrial isoforms of malate dehydrogenase and to complete inactivation of the mitochondrial aspartate aminotransferase (Aat1). A considerable decrease in the amount of mitochondrial acetylated proteins was observed in the Δyfh1 mutant compared with wild-type. Aat1 is acetylated in wild-type mitochondria and deacetylated in Δyfh1 mitochondria suggesting that inactivation could be due to this post-translational modification. Mutants deficient in iron–sulfur cluster assembly or lacking mitochondrial DNA also showed decreased activity of Aat1, suggesting that Aat1 inactivation was a secondary phenotype in Δyfh1 cells. Interestingly, deletion of the AAT1 gene in a wild-type strain caused respiratory deficiency and disruption of iron homoeostasis without any sensitivity to oxidative stress. Our results show that secondary inactivation of Aat1 contributes to the amplification of the respiratory defect observed in Δyfh1 cells. Further implication of mitochondrial protein deacetylation in the physiology of frataxin-deficient cells is anticipated.

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