The ferredoxin from the thermoacidophile Acidianus ambivalens is a representative of the archaeal family of di-cluster [3Fe-4S][4Fe-4S] ferredoxins. Previous studies have shown that these ferredoxins are intrinsically very stable and led to the suggestion that upon protein unfolding the iron-sulfur clusters degraded via linear three-iron sulfur center species, with 610 and 520 nm absorption bands, resembling those observed in purple aconitase. In this work, a kinetic and spectroscopic investigation on the alkaline chemical denaturation of the protein was performed in an attempt to elucidate the degradation pathway of the iron-sulfur centers in respect to protein unfolding events. For this purpose we investigated cluster dissociation, iron release and protein unfolding by complementary biophysical techniques. We found that shortly after initial protein unfolding, iron release proceeds monophasically at a rate comparable to that of cluster degradation, and that no typical EPR features of linear three-iron sulfur centers are observed. Further, it was observed that EDTA prevents formation of the transient bands and that sulfide significantly enhances its intensity and lifetime, even after protein unfolding. Altogether, our data suggest that iron sulfides, which are formed from the release of iron and sulfide resulting from cluster degradation during protein unfolding in alkaline conditions, are in fact responsible for the observed intermediate spectral species, thus disproving the hypothesis suggesting the presence of a linear three-iron center intermediate. Kinetic studies monitored by visible, fluorescence and UV second-derivative spectroscopies have elicited that upon initial perturbation of the tertiary structure the iron-sulfur centers start decomposing and that the presence of EDTA accelerates the process. Also, the presence of EDTA lowers the observed melting temperature in thermal ramp experiments and the midpoint denaturant concentration in equilibrium chemical unfolding experiments, further suggesting that the clusters also play a structural role in the maintenance of the conformation of the folded state.
Iron-sulfur centers Kinetics Protein folding Stability Thermophiles