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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2006 Dec;291(6):C1129-47. Epub 2006 Jun 7.

Assembly of mitochondrial cytochrome c-oxidase, a complicated and highly regulated cellular process.

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Departments of Neurology, The John T. Macdonald Foundation Center for Medical Genetics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida 33136, USA.


Cytochrome c-oxidase (COX), the terminal enzyme of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, plays a key role in the regulation of aerobic production of energy. Biogenesis of eukaryotic COX involves the coordinated action of two genomes. Three mitochondrial DNA-encoded subunits form the catalytic core of the enzyme, which contains metal prosthetic groups. Another 10 subunits encoded in the nuclear DNA act as a protective shield surrounding the core. COX biogenesis requires the assistance of >20 additional nuclear-encoded factors acting at all levels of the process. Expression of the mitochondrial-encoded subunits, expression and import of the nuclear-encoded subunits, insertion of the structural subunits into the mitochondrial inner membrane, addition of prosthetic groups, assembly of the holoenzyme, further maturation to form a dimer, and additional assembly into supercomplexes are all tightly regulated processes in a nuclear-mitochondrial-coordinated fashion. Such regulation ensures the building of a highly efficient machine able to catalyze the safe transfer of electrons from cytochrome c to molecular oxygen and ultimately facilitate the aerobic production of ATP. In this review, we will focus on describing and analyzing the present knowledge about the different regulatory checkpoints in COX assembly and the dynamic relationships between the different factors involved in the process. We have used information mostly obtained from the suitable yeast model, but also from bacterial and animal systems, by means of large-scale genetic, molecular biology, and physiological approaches and by integrating information concerning individual elements into a cellular system network.

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