We report on ten individuals with a fatal infantile encephalopathy and/or pulmonary hypertension, leading to death before the age of 15 months. Hyperglycinemia and lactic acidosis were common findings. Glycine cleavage system and pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHC) activities were low. Homozygosity mapping revealed a perfectly overlapping homozygous region of 1.24 Mb corresponding to chromosome 2 and led to the identification of a homozygous missense mutation (c.622G > T) in NFU1, which encodes a conserved protein suggested to participate in Fe-S cluster biogenesis. Nine individuals were homozygous for this mutation, whereas one was compound heterozygous for this and a splice-site (c.545 + 5G > A) mutation. The biochemical phenotype suggested an impaired activity of the Fe-S enzyme lipoic acid synthase (LAS). Direct measurement of protein-bound lipoic acid in individual tissues indeed showed marked decreases. Upon depletion of NFU1 by RNA interference in human cell culture, LAS and, in turn, PDHC activities were largely diminished. In addition, the amount of succinate dehydrogenase, but no other Fe-S proteins, was decreased. In contrast, depletion of the general Fe-S scaffold protein ISCU severely affected assembly of all tested Fe-S proteins, suggesting that NFU1 performs a specific function in mitochondrial Fe-S cluster maturation. Similar biochemical effects were observed in Saccharomyces cerevisiae upon deletion of NFU1, resulting in lower lipoylation and SDH activity. Importantly, yeast Nfu1 protein carrying the individuals' missense mutation was functionally impaired. We conclude that NFU1 functions as a late-acting maturation factor for a subset of mitochondrial Fe-S proteins.
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