The many roles of cytochrome b5

Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Feb;97(2):139-52. doi: 10.1016/s0163-7258(02)00327-3.


Four distinct suggestions have been made to explain the mechanism of the cytochrome b(5)-imposed positive modifier action of the cytochrome P450 monooxygenase reaction. The first mechanism involves a direct input of an electron into the monooxygenase cycle. This is the second of the two electrons necessary for activation of molecular oxygen, and appears to be a rate-limiting step in the monooxygenase reaction. P450 monooxygenases all appear to be uncoupled to varying extents, releasing superoxide and hydrogen peroxide instead of oxidized substrate. A second mechanism suggests that cytochrome b(5) acts as a positive modifier of the monooxygenase by decreasing the extent of uncoupling of the monooxygenase reaction. The implication is that a slow input of the second electron allows uncoupling of a superoxide anion instead of formation of two-electron reduced oxygen. Faster input of the second electron via cytochrome b(5) would result in formation of more of the activated oxygen that reacts with substrate to form product. A third suggestion involves formation of a two-hemoprotein complex between cytochrome b(5) and cytochrome P450 that allows acceptance of two electrons from NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase. Uncomplexed cytochrome P450 accepts an electron from the reductase, dissociates from it, binds oxygen, and re-associates with the reductase to accept another electron. Complexation with cytochrome b(5) enhances the rate of formation of the active oxygen by obviating the need for two interactions with reductase. The fourth mechanism has cytochrome b(5) serving as an effector without a reduction-oxidation role in the monooxygenation reaction. This effector function may be to enhance the breakdown of the oxygenated hemoprotein to products or to facilitate flow of electrons through the system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cytochromes b5* / metabolism
  • Cytochromes b5* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiology*
  • NADPH-Ferrihemoprotein Reductase* / metabolism
  • NADPH-Ferrihemoprotein Reductase* / physiology
  • Species Specificity


  • Cytochromes b5
  • NADPH-Ferrihemoprotein Reductase