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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1998 May 6;1364(2):245-57.

A reductant-induced oxidation mechanism for complex I.

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The Johnson Research Foundation and Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


A model for energy conversion in Complex I is proposed that is a conservative expansion of Mitchell's Q-cycle using a simple mechanistic variation of that already established experimentally for Complex III. The model accommodates the following proposals. (1) The large number of flavin and iron-sulfur redox cofactors integral to Complex I form a simple but long electron transfer chain guiding submillisecond electron transfer from substrate NADH in the matrix to the [4Fe-4S] cluster N2 close to the matrix-membrane interface. (2) The reduced N2 cluster injects a single electron into a ubiquinone (Q) drawn from the membrane pool into a nearby Qnz site, generating an unstable transition state semiquinone (SQ). The generation of a SQ species is the primary step in the energy conversion process in Complex I, as in Complex III. In Complex III, the SQ at the Qo site near the cytosolic side acts as a strong reductant to drive electronic charge across the membrane profile via two hemes B to a Qi site near the matrix side. We propose that in Complex I, the SQ at the Qnz site near the matrix side acts as a strong oxidant to pull electronic charge across the membrane profile via a quinone (Qny site) from a Qnx site near the cytosolic side. The opposing locations of matrix side Qnz and cytosolic side Qo, together with the opposite action of Qnz as an oxidant rather than a reductant, renders the Complex I and III processes vectorially and energetically complementary. The redox properties of the Qnz and Qo site occupants can be identical. (3) The intervening Qny site of Complex I acts as a proton pumping element (akin to the proton pump of Complex IV), rather than the simple electron guiding hemes B of Complex III. Thus the transmembrane action of Complex I doubles to four (or more) the number of protons and charges translocated per NADH oxidized and Q reduced. The Qny site does not exchange with the pool and may even be covalently bound. (4) The Qnx site on the cytosol side of Complex I is complementary to the Qi site on the matrix side of Complex III and can have the same redox properties. The Qnx site draws QH2 from the membrane pool to be oxidized in two single electron steps. Besides explaining earlier observations and making testable predictions, this Complex I model re-establishes a uniformity in the mechanisms of respiratory energy conversion by using engineering principles common to Complexes III and IV: (1) all the primary energy coupling reactions in the different complexes use oxygen chemistry in the guise of dioxygen or ubiquinone, (2) these reactions are highly localized structurally, utilizing closely placed catalytic redox cofactors, (3) these reactions are also highly localized energetically, since virtually all the free energy defined by substrates is conserved in the form of transition state that initiates the transmembrane action and (4) all complexes possess apparently supernumerary oxidation-reduction cofactors which form classical electron transfer chains that operate with high directional specificity to guide electron at near zero free energies to and from the sites of localized coupling.

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