Frataxin (FXN) is a highly conserved mitochondrial protein whose deficiency causes Friedreich's ataxia, a neurodegenerative disease. The precise physiological function of FXN is still unclear; however, there is experimental evidence that the protein is involved in biosynthetic iron-sulfur cluster machinery, redox imbalance, and iron homeostasis. FXN is synthesized in the cytosol and imported into the mitochondria, where it is proteolytically cleaved to the mature form. Its involvement in the redox imbalance suggests that FXN could interact with mitochondrial superoxide dismutase (SOD2), a key enzyme in antioxidant cellular defense. In this work, we use site-directed spin labelling coupled to electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy (SDSL-EPR) and fluorescence quenching experiments to investigate the interaction between human FXN and SOD2 in vitro. Spectroscopic data are combined with rigid body protein-protein docking to assess the potential structure of the FXN-SOD2 complex, which leaves the metal binding region of FXN accessible to the solvent. We provide evidence that human FXN interacts with human SOD2 in vitro and that the complex is in fast exchange. This interaction could be relevant during the assembly of iron-sulfur (FeS) clusters and/or their incorporation in proteins when FeS clusters are potentially susceptible to attacks by reactive oxygen species.
Keywords: Friedreich’s ataxia; SDSL-EPR; fluorescence; frataxin; molecular dynamics; protein-protein docking.