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Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Mar 1;44(5):835-46. Epub 2007 Dec 4.

Cytochrome c-mediated oxidation of hydroethidine and mito-hydroethidine in mitochondria: identification of homo- and heterodimers.

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Department of Biophysics and Free Radical Research Center, Medical College of Wisconsin, 8701 Watertown Plank Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.


Here we report that ferricytochrome c (cyt c(3+)) induces oxidation of hydroethidine (HE) and mitochondria-targeted hydroethidine (Mito-HE or MitoSOX Red) forming highly characteristic homo- and heterodimeric products. Using an HPLC-electrochemical (EC) method, several products were detected from cyt c(3+)-catalyzed oxidation of HE and Mito-HE and characterized by mass spectrometry and NMR techniques as follows: homodimers (HE-HE, E(+)-E(+), Mito-HE-Mito-HE, and Mito-E(+)-Mito-E(+)) and heterodimers (HE-E(+) and Mito-HE-Mito-E(+)), as well as the monomeric ethidium (E(+)) and mito-ethidium (Mito-E(+)). Similar products were detected when HE and Mito-HE were incubated with mitochondria. In contrast, mitochondria depleted of cyt c(3+) were much less effective in oxidizing HE or Mito-HE to corresponding dimeric products. Unlike E(+) or Mito-E(+), the dimeric analogs (E(+)-E(+) and Mito-E(+)-Mito-E(+)) were not fluorescent. Superoxide (O(2)(*-)) or Fremy's salt reacts with Mito-HE to form a product, 2-hydroxy-mito-ethidium (2-OH-Mito-E(+)) that was detected by HPLC. We conclude that HPLC-EC but not the confocal and fluorescence microscopy is a viable technique for measuring superoxide and cyt c(3+)-dependent oxidation products of HE and Mito-HE in cells. Superoxide detection using HE and Mito-HE could be severely compromised due to their propensity to undergo oxidation.

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