Protein complexing in a methanogen suggests electron bifurcation and electron delivery from formate to heterodisulfide reductase

Kyle C Costa, Phoebe M Wong, Tiansong Wang, Thomas J Lie, Jeremy A Dodsworth, Ingrid Swanson, June A Burn, Murray Hackett, John A Leigh
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2010 June 15, 107 (24): 11050-5
In methanogenic Archaea, the final step of methanogenesis generates methane and a heterodisulfide of coenzyme M and coenzyme B (CoM-S-S-CoB). Reduction of this heterodisulfide by heterodisulfide reductase to regenerate HS-CoM and HS-CoB is an exergonic process. Thauer et al. [Thauer, et al. 2008 Nat Rev Microbiol 6:579-591] recently suggested that in hydrogenotrophic methanogens the energy of heterodisulfide reduction powers the most endergonic reaction in the pathway, catalyzed by the formylmethanofuran dehydrogenase, via flavin-based electron bifurcation. Here we present evidence that these two steps in methanogenesis are physically linked. We identify a protein complex from the hydrogenotrophic methanogen, Methanococcus maripaludis, that contains heterodisulfide reductase, formylmethanofuran dehydrogenase, F(420)-nonreducing hydrogenase, and formate dehydrogenase. In addition to establishing a physical basis for the electron-bifurcation model of energy conservation, the composition of the complex also suggests that either H(2) or formate (two alternative electron donors for methanogenesis) can donate electrons to the heterodisulfide-H(2) via F(420)-nonreducing hydrogenase or formate via formate dehydrogenase. Electron flow from formate to the heterodisulfide rather than the use of H(2) as an intermediate represents a previously unknown path of electron flow in methanogenesis. We further tested whether this path occurs by constructing a mutant lacking F(420)-nonreducing hydrogenase. The mutant displayed growth equal to wild-type with formate but markedly slower growth with hydrogen. The results support the model of electron bifurcation and suggest that formate, like H(2), is closely integrated into the methanogenic pathway.

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