The present state of the art in studies on the mechanisms of antioxidant activities of mitochondria-targeted cationic plastoquinone derivatives (SkQs) is reviewed. Our experiments showed that these compounds can operate as antioxidants in two quite different ways, i.e. (i) by preventing peroxidation of cardiolipin [Antonenko et al., Biochemistry (Moscow) 73 (2008) 1273-1287] and (ii) by fatty acid cycling resulting in mild uncoupling that inhibits the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in mitochondrial State 4 [Severin et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107 (2009), 663-668]. The quinol and cationic moieties of SkQ are involved in cases (i) and (ii), respectively. In case (i) SkQH2 interrupts propagation of chain reactions involved in peroxidation of unsaturated fatty acid residues in cardiolipin, the formed SkQ- being reduced back to SkQH2 by heme bH of complex III in an antimycin-sensitive way. Molecular dynamics simulation showed that there are two stable conformations of SkQ1 with the quinol residue localized near peroxyl radicals at C9 or C13 of the linoleate residue in cardiolipin. In mechanism (ii), fatty acid cycling mediated by the cationic SkQ moiety is involved. It consists of (a) transmembrane movement of the fatty acid anion/SkQ cation pair and (b) back flows of free SkQ cation and protonated fatty acid. The cycling results in a protonophorous effect that was demonstrated in planar phospholipid membranes and liposomes. In mitochondria, the cycling gives rise to mild uncoupling, thereby decreasing membrane potential and ROS generation coupled to reverse electron transport in the respiratory chain. In yeast cells, dodecyltriphenylphosphonium (capital ES, Cyrillic12TPP), the cationic part of SkQ1, induces uncoupling that is mitochondria-targeted since capital ES, Cyrillic12TPP is specifically accumulated in mitochondria and increases the H+ conductance of their inner membrane. The conductance of the outer cell membrane is not affected by capital ES, Cyrillic12TPP.
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