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Hum Mol Genet. 2013 Dec 1;22(23):4768-83. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddt330. Epub 2013 Jul 11.

Mitochondrial respiration without ubiquinone biosynthesis.

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Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1B1.


Ubiquinone (UQ), a.k.a. coenzyme Q, is a redox-active lipid that participates in several cellular processes, in particular mitochondrial electron transport. Primary UQ deficiency is a rare but severely debilitating condition. Mclk1 (a.k.a. Coq7) encodes a conserved mitochondrial enzyme that is necessary for UQ biosynthesis. We engineered conditional Mclk1 knockout models to study pathogenic effects of UQ deficiency and to assess potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of UQ deficiencies. We found that Mclk1 knockout cells are viable in the total absence of UQ. The UQ biosynthetic precursor DMQ9 accumulates in these cells and can sustain mitochondrial respiration, albeit inefficiently. We demonstrated that efficient rescue of the respiratory deficiency in UQ-deficient cells by UQ analogues is side chain length dependent, and that classical UQ analogues with alkyl side chains such as idebenone and decylUQ are inefficient in comparison with analogues with isoprenoid side chains. Furthermore, Vitamin K2, which has an isoprenoid side chain, and has been proposed to be a mitochondrial electron carrier, had no efficacy on UQ-deficient mouse cells. In our model with liver-specific loss of Mclk1, a large depletion of UQ in hepatocytes caused only a mild impairment of respiratory chain function and no gross abnormalities. In conjunction with previous findings, this surprisingly small effect of UQ depletion indicates a nonlinear dependence of mitochondrial respiratory capacity on UQ content. With this model, we also showed that diet-derived UQ10 is able to functionally rescue the electron transport deficit due to severe endogenous UQ deficiency in the liver, an organ capable of absorbing exogenous UQ.

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