Infoscience

Journal article

New Techniques for Ancient Proteins: Direct Coupling Analysis Applied on Proteins Involved in Iron Sulfur Cluster Biogenesis

Direct coupling analysis (DCA) is a powerful statistical inference tool used to study protein evolution. It was introduced to predict protein folds and protein-protein interactions, and has also been applied to the prediction of entire interactomes. Here, we have used it to analyze three proteins of the iron-sulfur biogenesis machine, an essential metabolic pathway conserved in all organisms. We show that DCA can correctly reproduce structural features of the CyaY/frataxin family (a protein involved in the human disease Friedreich's ataxia) despite being based on the relatively small number of sequences allowed by its genomic distribution. This result gives us confidence in the method. Its application to the iron-sulfur cluster scaffold protein IscU, which has been suggested to function both as an ordered and a disordered form, allows us to distinguish evolutionary traces of the structured species, suggesting that, if present in the cell, the disordered form has not left evolutionary imprinting. We observe instead, for the first time, direct indications of how the protein can dimerize head-to-head and bind 4Fe4S clusters. Analysis of the alternative scaffold protein IscA provides strong support to a coordination of the cluster by a dimeric form rather than a tetramer, as previously suggested. Our analysis also suggests the presence in solution of a mixture of monomeric and dimeric species, and guides us to the prevalent one. Finally, we used DCA to analyze interactions between some of these proteins, and discuss the potentials and limitations of the method

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