Lipoic acid is assembled on its cognate proteins (e.g. the E2 subunit of pyruvate dehydrogenase). An octanoyl moiety is transferred from the octanoyl-ACP of fatty acid synthetase to a specific lysine residue of the cognate protein followed by sulfur insertion at C6 and C8 of the octanoyl chain. The challenging chemistry of this last step is performed by the radical S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) enzyme lipoyl synthase (LipA). In this issue of the Biochemical Journal, Harmer et al. report the first crystal structure of a lipoyl synthase and demonstrate that it contains two [4Fe–4S] clusters, the canonical radical SAM cluster plus a second auxiliary cluster having an unprecedented serine ligand. The structure provides strong support for the model in which the auxiliary cluster donates the lipoate sulfur atoms.

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