Structural insight on the mechanism of an electron-bifurcating [FeFe] hydrogenase

11 April 2022, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Electron-bifurcation is a fundamental energy conservation mechanism in nature in which two electrons from an intermediate potential electron donor are split so that one is sent along a high potential pathway to a high potential acceptor and the other is sent along a low potential pathway to a low potential acceptor. This process allows endergonic reactions to be driven by exergonic ones and is an alternative, less recognised, mechanism of energy coupling to the well-known chemiosmotic principle. The electron-bifurcating [FeFe] hydrogenase from Thermotoga maritima (HydABC) requires both NADH and ferredoxin to reduce protons generating hydrogen. The mechanism of electron-bifurcation in HydABC remains enigmatic in spite of intense research efforts over the last few years. Structural information may provide the basis for a better understanding of spectroscopic and functional information. Here, we present a 2.3 Å electron cryo-microscopy structure of HydABC. The structure shows a heterododecamer composed of two independent ‘halves’ each made of two strongly interacting HydABC heterotrimers electrically connected via a [4Fe-4S] cluster. A central electron transfer pathway connects the active sites for NADH oxidation and for proton reduction. We identified two conformations of a flexible iron-sulfur cluster domain: a “closed bridge” and an “open bridge” conformation, where a Zn2+ site may act as a “hinge” allowing domain movement. Based on these structural revelations, we propose a possible mechanism of electron-bifurcation in HydABC where the flavin mononucleotide serves a dual role as both the electron bifurcation center and as the NAD+ reduction/NADH oxidation site.


electron bifurcation
electron cryo-microscopy
energy conservation

Supplementary materials

Furlan 2021 HydABC Supplementary Materials
Supplementary text Figs. S1 to S9 Table S1 Captions to Movie S1 and S2


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