Mitochondrial Hspa9/Mortalin regulates erythroid differentiation via iron-sulfur cluster assembly

Mitochondrion. 2016 Jan;26:94-103. doi: 10.1016/j.mito.2015.12.005. Epub 2015 Dec 17.


Mitochondrial iron-sulfur cluster (ISC) biogenesis provides iron-sulfur cofactors to several mitochondrial proteins, but the extent to which ISC biogenesis regulates hematopoiesis has been unclear. The blood disease Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, and the disease overlaps with the gene Hspa9/Mortalin in multiple ways: the HSPA9 locus maps to 5q31.2 that is frequently deleted in human MDS; mutant Hspa9 causes zebrafish MDS; and Hspa9 knockdown mice have decreased hematopoiesis. We show here that HSPA9 functions in mitochondrial ISC biogenesis, and is required for erythroid differentiation. HSPA9 interacts with and stabilizes the mitochondrial ISC biogenesis proteins frataxin, Nfs1, ISCU, and Nfu. MDS-causing mutations in HSPA9 protein change its interactions with ISC biogenesis proteins. Depletion of HSPA9 decreases aconitase activity, which requires an ISC at its active site, but not that of the non-ISC requiring malate dehydrogenase, and increases IRP1 binding activity. In erythroid cell lines, Hspa9 depletion inhibited erythroid differentiation, post-transcriptionally regulating the expression of Alas2 and FeCH, as expected through known ISC control of the IRE response elements in these genes. By contrast, the Alas2 open reading frame rescued the Hspa9-dependent defect in erythroid differentiation, but not when uncoupled from its 5'-IRE sequence. Thus, Hspa9 depletion causes a mitochondrial ISC deficit, altering IRP1-IRE binding and FeCH stability, which consequently inhibits Alas2 translation, heme synthesis, and erythroid differentiation, i.e.: Hspa9->ISC->IRP/IRE->Alas2->heme synthesis->erythroid differentiation. Thus Hspa9 regulates erythroid differentiation through ISC cluster assembly, providing a pathophysiological mechanism for an MDS subtype characterized by HSPA9 haploinsufficiency, and suggests hemin and other pharmacological stimulators of ISC synthesis as potential routes to therapy.

Keywords: Erythroid differentiation; HSPA9; ISC cluster biogenesis; MDS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Line
  • Erythroid Cells / metabolism*
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / genetics
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / genetics
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • HSPA9 protein, human
  • Hspa9 protein, mouse
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins