Structure and organization of mitochondrial respiratory complexes: a new understanding of an old subject

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2010 Apr 15;12(8):961-1008. doi: 10.1089/ars.2009.2704.


The enzymatic complexes of the mitochondrial respiratory chain have been extensively investigated in their structural and functional properties. A clear distinction is possible today between three complexes in which the difference in redox potential allows proton translocation (complexes I, III, and IV) and those having the mere function to convey electrons to the respiratory chain. We also have a clearer understanding of the structure and function of most respiratory complexes, of their biogenesis and regulation, and of their capacity to generate reactive oxygen species. Past investigations led to the conclusion that the complexes are randomly dispersed and functionally connected by diffusion of smaller redox components, coenzyme Q and cytochrome c. More-recent investigations by native gel electrophoresis and single-particle image processing showed the existence of supramolecular associations. Flux-control analysis demonstrated that complexes I and III in mammals and I, III, and IV in plants kinetically behave as single units, suggesting the existence of substrate channeling. This review discusses conditions affecting the formation of supercomplexes that, besides kinetic advantage, have a role in the stability and assembly of the individual complexes and in preventing excess oxygen radical formation. Disruption of supercomplex organization may lead to functional derangements responsible for pathologic changes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Respiration / physiology
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism
  • Electron Transport / physiology*
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / chemistry
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • NAD / chemistry
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Ubiquinone / physiology


  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins
  • Protein Subunits
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NAD
  • Ubiquinone
  • Cytochromes c