The protonmotive force in bovine heart submitochondrial particles. Magnitude, sites of generation and comparison with the phosphorylation potential

Biochem J. 1978 Jul 15;174(1):237-56. doi: 10.1042/bj1740237.


1. The magnitude of the protonmotive force in respiring bovine heart submitochondrial particles was estimated. The membrane-potential component was determined from the uptake of S14CN-ions, and the pH-gradient component from the uptake of [14C]methylamine. In each case a flow-dialysis technique was used to monitor uptake. 2. With NADH as substrate the membrane potential was approx. 145mV and the pH gradient was between 0 and 0.5 unit when the particles were suspended in a Pi/Tris reaction medium. The addition of the permeant NO3-ion decreased the membrane potential with a corresponding increase in the pH gradient. In a medium containing 200mM-sucrose, 50mM-KCl and Hepes as buffer, the total protonmotive force was 185mV, comprising a membrane potential of 90mV and a pH gradient of 1.6 units. Thus the protonmotive force was slightly larger in the high-osmolarity medium. 3. The phosphorylation potential (= deltaG0' + RT ln[ATP]/[ADP][Pi]) was approx. 43.1 kJ/mol (10.3kcal/mol) in all the reaction media tested. Comparison of this value with the protonmotive force indicates that more than 2 and up to 3 protons must be moved across the membrane for each molecule of ATP synthesized by a chemiosmotic mechanism. 4. Succinate generated both a protonmotive force and a phosphorylation potential that were of similar magnitude to those observed with NADH as substrate. 5. Although oxidation of NADH supports a rate of ATP synthesis that is approximately twice that observed with succinate, respiration with either of these substrates generated a very similar protonmotive force. Thus there seemed to be no strict relation between the size of the protonmotive force and the phosphorylation rate. 6. In the presence of antimycin and/or 2-n-heptyl-4-hydroxyquinoline N-oxide, ascorbate oxidation with either NNN'N'-tetramethyl-p-phenylenediamine or 2,3,5,6-tetramethyl-p-phenylenediamine as electron mediator generated a membrane potential of approx. 90mV, but no pH gradient was detected, even in the presence of NO3-. These data are discussed with reference to the proposal that cytochrome oxidase contains a proton pump.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism
  • Cattle
  • Electrochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism*
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protons
  • Submitochondrial Particles / metabolism*
  • Succinates / metabolism


  • Protons
  • Succinates
  • NAD
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Ascorbic Acid