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J Biol Chem. 2001 Feb 16;276(7):4588-96. Epub 2000 Nov 22.

Selective targeting of a redox-active ubiquinone to mitochondria within cells: antioxidant and antiapoptotic properties.

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  • 1Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Otago, Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


With the recognition of the central role of mitochondria in apoptosis, there is a need to develop specific tools to manipulate mitochondrial function within cells. Here we report on the development of a novel antioxidant that selectively blocks mitochondrial oxidative damage, enabling the roles of mitochondrial oxidative stress in different types of cell death to be inferred. This antioxidant, named mitoQ, is a ubiquinone derivative targeted to mitochondria by covalent attachment to a lipophilic triphenylphosphonium cation through an aliphatic carbon chain. Due to the large mitochondrial membrane potential, the cation was accumulated within mitochondria inside cells, where the ubiquinone moiety inserted into the lipid bilayer and was reduced by the respiratory chain. The ubiquinol derivative thus formed was an effective antioxidant that prevented lipid peroxidation and protected mitochondria from oxidative damage. After detoxifying a reactive oxygen species, the ubiquinol moiety was regenerated by the respiratory chain enabling its antioxidant activity to be recycled. In cell culture studies, the mitochondrially localized antioxidant protected mammalian cells from hydrogen peroxide-induced apoptosis but not from apoptosis induced by staurosporine or tumor necrosis factor-alpha. This was compared with untargeted ubiquinone analogs, which were ineffective in preventing apoptosis. These results suggest that mitochondrial oxidative stress may be a critical step in apoptosis induced by hydrogen peroxide but not for apoptosis induced by staurosporine or tumor necrosis factor-alpha. We have shown that selectively manipulating mitochondrial antioxidant status with targeted and recyclable antioxidants is a feasible approach to investigate the role of mitochondrial oxidative damage in apoptotic cell death. This approach will have further applications in investigating mitochondrial dysfunction in a range of experimental models.

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