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The Cytochrome Bc1 Complex: Function In The Context Of Structure

Antony R. Crofts

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▪ Abstract  The bc 1 complexes are intrinsic membrane proteins that catalyze the oxidation of ubihydroquinone and the reduction of cytochrome c in mitochondrial respiratory chains and bacterial photosynthetic and respiratory chains. The bc 1 complex operates through a Q-cycle mechanism that couples electron transfer to generation of the proton gradient that drives ATP synthesis. Genetic defects leading to mutations in proteins of the respiratory chain, including the subunits of the bc 1 complex, result in mitochondrial myopathies, many of which are a direct result of dysfunction at catalytic sites. Some myopathies, especially those in the cytochrome b subunit, exacerbate free-radical damage by enhancing superoxide production at the ubihydroquinone oxidation site. This bypass reaction appears to be an unavoidable feature of the reaction mechanism. Cellular aging is largely attributable to damage to DNA and proteins from the reactive oxygen species arising from superoxide and is a major contributing factor in many diseases of old age. An understanding of the mechanism of the bc 1 complex is therefore central to our understanding of the aging process. In addition, a wide range of inhibitors that mimic the quinone substrates are finding important applications in clinical therapy and agronomy. Recent structural studies have shown how many of these inhibitors bind, and have provided important clues to the mechanism of action and the basis of resistance through mutation. This paper reviews recent advances in our understanding of the mechanism of the bc 1 complex and their relation to these physiologically important issues in the context of the structural information available.