Cytochrome C oxidase subunit I. Cytochrome c oxidase (CcO), the terminal oxidase in the respiratory chains of eukaryotes and most bacteria, is a multi-chain transmembrane protein located in the inner membrane of mitochondria and the cell membrane of prokaryotes. It catalyzes the reduction of O2 and simultaneously pumps protons across the membrane. The number of subunits varies from three to five in bacteria and up to 13 in mammalian mitochondria. Only subunits I and II are essential for function, but subunit III, which is also conserved, may play a role in assembly or oxygen delivery to the active site. Subunits I, II, and III of mammalian CcO are encoded within the mitochondrial genome and the remaining 10 subunits are encoded within the nuclear genome. Subunit I contains a heme-copper binuclear center (the active site where O2 is reduced to water) formed by a high-spin heme (heme a3) and a copper ion (CuB). It also contains a low-spin heme (heme a), believed to participate in the transfer of electrons to the binuclear center. For every reduction of an O2 molecule, eight protons are taken from the inside aqueous compartment and four electrons are taken from cytochrome c on the opposite side of the membrane. The four electrons and four of the protons are used in the reduction of O2; the four remaining protons are pumped across the membrane. This charge separation of four charges contributes to the electrochemical gradient used for ATP synthesis. Two proton channels, the D-pathway and K-pathway, leading to the binuclear center have been identified in subunit I. A well-defined pathway for the transfer of pumped protons beyond the binuclear center has not been identified. Electrons are transferred from cytochrome c (the electron donor) to heme a via the CuA binuclear site in subunit II, and directly from heme a to the binuclear center.