Structural basis of membrane machines that traffick and attach heme to cytochromes

Jonathan Q. Huynh, Ethan P. Lowder, Robert G. Kranz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We evaluate cryoEM and crystal structures of two molecular machines that traffick heme and attach it to cytochrome c (cyt c), the second activity performed by a cyt c synthase. These integral membrane proteins, CcsBA and CcmF/H, both covalently attach heme to cyt c, but carry it out via different mechanisms. A CcsB-CcsA complex transports heme through a channel to its external active site, where it forms two thioethers between reduced (Fe+2) heme and CysXxxXxxCysHis in cyt c. The active site is formed by a periplasmic WWD sequence and two histidines (P-His1 and P-His2). We evaluate each proposed functional domain in CcsBA cryoEM densities, exploring their presence in other CcsB-CcsA proteins from a wide distribution of organisms (e.g., from Gram positive to Gram negative bacteria to chloroplasts.) Two conserved pockets, for the first and second cysteines of CXXCH, explain stereochemical heme attachment. In addition to other universal features, a conserved periplasmic beta stranded structure, called the beta cap, protects the active site when external heme is not present. Analysis of CcmF/H, here called an oxidoreductase and cyt c synthase, addresses mechanisms of heme access and attachment. We provide evidence that CcmF/H receives Fe+3 heme from holoCcmE via a periplasmic entry point in CcmF, whereby heme is inserted directly into a conserved WWD/P-His domain from above. Evidence suggests that CcmF acts as a heme reductase, reducing holoCcmE (to Fe+2) through a transmembrane electron transfer conduit, which initiates a complicated series of events at the active site.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105332
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • bioenergetics
  • biogenesis
  • cytochrome
  • cytochrome c
  • heme
  • heme attachment
  • leaflet
  • molecular machine
  • structure
  • transport


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