The biosynthesis of the dinuclear metal cluster at the active sites of the [NiFe]-hydrogenase enzymes is a multi-step process executed by a suite of accessory proteins. Nickel insertion during maturation of Escherichia coli [NiFe]-hydrogenase 3 is achieved by the metallochaperones HypA, SlyD and the GTPase HypB, but how these proteins cooperate to ensure nickel delivery is not known. In this study, the complexes formed between the individual purified proteins were examined by using several methods. Size exclusion chromatography (SEC) indicated that SlyD and HypB interact primarily in a 1:1 complex. The affinity of HypB-SlyD was measured by using surface plasmon resonance, which revealed a KD of 24 ± 10 nM in the absence of nucleotide and an interaction several fold tighter in the presence of GDP. A ternary complex between all three proteins was not detected, and instead SlyD blocked the interaction of HypA with HypB in competitive binding experiments. Furthermore, cross-linking experiments suggest a weak interaction between HypA and SlyD, which is not detectable by SEC. Electrochemical analysis confirmed each of the pairwise interactions and that the relative affinities of these complexes are on the order of HypB-SlyD > HypB-HypA > HypA-SlyD. These results indicate a hierarchy of interactions, as opposed to a single multiprotein complex, and provide insight into the nickel delivery process during hydrogenase enzyme maturation.
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