Critical roles of bacterioferritins in iron storage and proliferation of cyanobacteria

Nir Keren*, Rajeev Aurora, Himadri B. Pakrasi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Cyanobacteria are key contributors to global photosynthetic productivity, and iron availability is essential for cyanobacterial proliferation. While iron is abundant in the earth's crust, its unique chemical properties render it a limiting factor for photoautotrophic growth. As compared to other nonphotosynthetic organisms, oxygenic photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria, algae, and green plants need large amounts of iron to maintain functional PSI complexes in their photosynthetic apparatus. Ferritins and bacterioferritins are ubiquitously present iron-storage proteins. We have found that in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (Synechocystis 6803), bacterioferritins are responsible for the storage of as much as 50% of cellular iron. Synechocystis 6803, as well as many other cyanobacterial species, have two bacterioferritins, BfrA and BfrB, in which either the heme binding or di-iron center ligating residues are absent. Purified bacterioferritin complex from Synechocystis 6803 has both BfrA and BfrB proteins. Targeted mutagenesis of each of the two bacterioferritin genes resulted in poor growth under iron-deprived conditions. Inactivation of both genes did not result in a more severe phenotype. These results support the presence of a heteromultimeric structure of Synechocystis bacterioferritin, in which one subunit ligates a di-iron center while the other accommodates heme binding. Notably, the reduced internal iron concentrations in the mutant cells resulted in a lower content of PSI. In addition, they triggered iron starvation responses even in the presence of normal levels of external iron, thus demonstrating a central role of bacterioferritins in iron homeostasis in these photosynthetic organisms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1666-1673
Number of pages8
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes


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