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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2001 Apr 1;388(1):34-8.

The ubiquinol/bc1 redox couple regulates mitochondrial oxygen radical formation.

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Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Veterinary University Vienna, Austria.


The generation of oxygen radicals in biological systems and their sites of intracellular release were subject of numerous studies in the last decades. Based on these studies mitochondria were considered as the major source of intracellular oxygen radicals. Although this finding is more or less accepted the mechanism of univalent oxygen reduction in mitochondria is still obscure. One of the most critical electron transfer steps of the respiratory chain is the electron bifurcation at the bc1 complex. From recent studies with genetically mutated mitochondria it became clear that electron bifurcation from ubiquinol to the bc1 complex requires an underanged mobility of the head domain of the Rieske iron sulfur protein. On the other hand it is long known that inhibition of electron bifurcation by antimycin A causes the leakage of single electrons to dioxygen, which results in the release of O2*- radicals. These findings made us to prove whether the impediment of the interaction of ubiquinol with the bc1 complex is the regulator of single electron diversion to oxygen. Impediment of electron bifurcation was observed following alterations of the physical state of membrane phospholipids in which the bc1 complex is inserted. Irrespectively, whether the fluidity of membrane lipids was elevated or decreased electron flow rates to the Rieske iron sulfur protein and to low potential cytochrome b were drastically reduced. Concomitantly O2*- radicals were released from these mitochondria, suggesting an effect on the mobility of the head domain of the Rieske iron sulfur protein. These results including the well known effect of antimycin A revealed the involvement of the ubiquinol bc1 redox couple in mitochondrial O2*- formation. The regulator which controls leakage of electrons to oxygen appears to be the electron branching activity of the bc1 complex.

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