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J Biol Chem. 2003 Dec 26;278(52):52139-45. Epub 2003 Oct 8.

Reversal of cyanide inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase by the auxiliary substrate nitric oxide: an endogenous antidote to cyanide poisoning?

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  • 1University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania 15260, USA.


Nitric oxide (NO) is shown to overcome the cyanide inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase in the presence of excess ferrocytochrome c and oxygen. Addition of NO to the partially reduced cyanide-inhibited form of the bovine enzyme is shown by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy to result in substitution of cyanide at ferriheme a3 by NO with reduction of the heme. The resulting nitrosylferroheme a3 is a 5-coordinate structure, the proximal bond to histidine having been broken. NO does not simply act as a reversibly bound competitive inhibitor but is an auxiliary substrate consumed in a catalytic cycle along with ferrocytochrome c and oxygen. The implications of this observation with regard to estimates of steady-state NO levels in vivo is discussed. Given the multiple sources of NO available to mitochondria, the present results appear to explain in part some of the curious biomedical observations reported by other laboratories; for example, the kidneys of cyanide poisoning victims surprisingly exhibit no significant irreversible damage, and lethal doses of potassium cyanide are able to inhibit cytochrome c oxidase activity by only approximately 50% in brain mitochondria.

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