Evidence for two sites of superoxide production by mitochondrial NADH-ubiquinone oxidoreductase (complex I)

J Biol Chem. 2011 Aug 5;286(31):27103-10. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.252502. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


Complex I (NADH-ubiquinone oxidoreductase) can form superoxide during forward electron flow (NADH-oxidizing) or, at sufficiently high protonmotive force, during reverse electron transport from the ubiquinone (Q) pool (NAD(+)-reducing). We designed an assay system to allow titration of the redox state of the superoxide-generating site during reverse electron transport in rat skeletal muscle mitochondria: a protonmotive force generated by ATP hydrolysis, succinate:malonate to alter electron supply and modulate the redox state of the Q pool, and inhibition of complex III to prevent QH(2) oxidation via the Q cycle. Stepwise oxidation of the QH(2)/Q pool by increasing malonate concentration slowed the rates of both reverse electron transport and rotenone-sensitive superoxide production by complex I. However, the superoxide production rate was not uniquely related to the resultant potential of the NADH/NAD(+) redox couple. Thus, there is a superoxide producer during reverse electron transport at complex I that responds to Q pool redox state and is not in equilibrium with the NAD reduction state. In contrast, superoxide production during forward electron transport in the presence of rotenone was uniquely related to NAD redox state. These results support a two-site model of complex I superoxide production; one site in equilibrium with the NAD pool, presumably the flavin of the FMN moiety (site I(F)) and the other dependent not only on NAD redox state, but also on protonmotive force and the reduction state of the Q pool, presumably a semiquinone in the Q-binding site (site I(Q)).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electron Transport
  • Electron Transport Complex I / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Superoxides
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Electron Transport Complex I