Human NFU (also known as HIRIP5) has been implicated in cellular iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis. Bacterial and yeast forms are smaller than the human protein and are homologous to the C-terminal domain of the latter. This C-terminal domain contains a pair of redox active cysteines and demonstrates thioredoxin-like activity by mediating persulfide bond cleavage of sulfur-loaded NifS (an IscS-type protein), the sulfide donor for [2Fe-2S] cluster assembly on ISU-type scaffold proteins. Herein, the affinity of full-length human NFU and the individual N- and C-terminal domains for sulfide donor and cluster scaffold proteins is assessed. The influence of the N-terminal domain on C-terminal NFU binding to NifS and persulfide reductase activity is also examined. Only the C-terminal domain is required for persulfide reductase activity, while complex formation of NifS with full-length NFU is similar to that of the C-terminal domain alone (K(D) approximately 9.7 +/- 0.7 and 10.1 +/- 0.6 microM, respectively). There is negligible affinity between the isolated C- and N-terminal domains, while the N-terminal domain has negligible affinity for either sulfide donor or cluster scaffold proteins. The temperature dependence of the binding enthalpy for formation of the complex between NifS and the C-terminal domain of NFU yields a change in molar heat capacity (DeltaC(p) approximately 138 cal mol(-1) K(-1)) that suggests bonding at the protein-protein interface is dominated by electrostatic interactions. This is consistent with electrostatic potential maps for bacterial homologues of the N- and C-terminal domains of human NFU, which most likely reflect the structural characteristics expected for full-length human NFU.