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FEBS Lett. 2004 Jul 30;571(1-3):9-16.

Fine-tuning the hydrophobicity of a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant.

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Medical Research Council Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Wellcome Trust/MRC Building, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2XY, UK.


The mitochondria-targeted antioxidant MitoQ comprises a ubiquinol moiety covalently attached through an aliphatic carbon chain to the lipophilic triphenylphosphonium cation. This cation drives the membrane potential-dependent accumulation of MitoQ into mitochondria, enabling the ubiquinol antioxidant to prevent mitochondrial oxidative damage far more effectively than untargeted antioxidants. We sought to fine-tune the hydrophobicity of MitoQ so as to control the extent of its membrane binding and penetration into the phospholipid bilayer, and thereby regulate its partitioning between the membrane and aqueous phases within mitochondria and cells. To do this, MitoQ variants with 3, 5, 10 and 15 carbon aliphatic chains were synthesised. These molecules had a wide range of hydrophobicities with octan-1-ol/phosphate buffered saline partition coefficients from 2.8 to 20000. All MitoQ variants were accumulated into mitochondria driven by the membrane potential, but their binding to phospholipid bilayers varied from negligible for MitoQ3 to essentially total for MitoQ15. Despite the span of hydrophobicites, all MitoQ variants were effective antioxidants. Therefore, it is possible to fine-tune the degree of membrane association of MitoQ and other mitochondria targeted compounds, without losing antioxidant efficacy. This indicates how the uptake and distribution of mitochondria-targeted compounds within mitochondria and cells can be controlled, thereby facilitating investigations of mitochondrial oxidative damage.

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