Iron is a centrally bound cofactor of specifier proteins involved in glucosinolate breakdown
Glucosinolates, a group of sulfur-rich thioglucosides found in plants of the order Brassicales, have attracted a lot of interest as chemical defenses of plants and health promoting substances in human diet. They are accumulated separately from their hydrolyzing enzymes, myrosinases, within the intact plant, but undergo myrosinase-catalyzed hydrolysis upon tissue disruption. This results in various biologically active products, e.g. isothiocyanates, simple nitriles, epithionitriles, and organic thiocyanates. While formation of isothiocyanates proceeds by a spontaneous rearrangement of the glucosinolate aglucone, aglucone conversion to the other products involves specifier proteins under physiological conditions. Specifier proteins appear to act with high specificity, but their exact roles and the structural bases of their specificity are presently unknown. Previous research identified the motif EXXXDXXXH as potential iron binding site required for activity, but crystal structures of recombinant specifier proteins lacked the iron cofactor. Here, we provide experimental evidence for the presence of iron (most likely Fe2+) in purified recombinant thiocyanate-forming protein from Thlaspi arvense (TaTFP) using a Ferene S-based photometric assay as well as Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. Iron binding and activity depend on E266, D270, and H274 suggesting a direct interaction of Fe2+ with these residues. Furthermore, we demonstrate presence of iron in epithiospecifier protein and nitrile-specifier protein 3 from Arabidopsis thaliana (AtESP and AtNSP3). We also present a homology model of AtNSP3. In agreement with this model, iron binding and activity of AtNSP3 depend on E386, D390, and H394. The homology model further suggests that the active site of AtNSP3 imposes fewer restrictions to the glucosinolate aglucone conformation than that of TaTFP and AtESP due to its larger size. This may explain why AtNSP3 does not support epithionitrile or thiocyanate formation, which likely requires exact positioning of the aglucone thiolate relative to the side chain.